Holy Crap! – What is a “Major Crisis?”

66_picsThe Superintendent’s panel at EdNet this week featured a discussion about education reform that was like a cold bucket of water to the face.

The Supers were teaching us about inertia, the tendency of objects to maintain their current state. As Newton himself put it:

The vis insita, or innate force of matter is a power of resisting, by which every body, as much as in it lies, endeavors to preserve in its present state, whether it be of rest, or of moving uniformly forward in a straight line.

The panelists were discussing what will change in the next 5-10 years in education. They were looking globally at the overall system (teacher evaluation, bell schedule, technology, instructional materials, funding flows, etc.). In this context the Superintendent of one of the largest districts in the country (LACOE), in a state (CA) that is experiencing a state of extreme financial distress, stated that she didn’t think anything significant would change until we had a “major crisis.”

If what we are experiencing right now isn’t a major crisis I shudder to think what the hell would fit the definition? National bankruptcy? Nuclear Holocaust?

The Superintendents do expect to see change, but it will be small bore. They believe meaningful reforms will happen on a pioneer basis in a few schools and districts. But the larger issue of systemic education reform will require an even greater crisis than we currently have.

The system is so large and has so much inertia that even those with the will and positions to drive change don’t hold out much hope for progress.

Think about that.


One response to “Holy Crap! – What is a “Major Crisis?””

  1. Doug Stein says:

    I was at the same meeting and noticed the same bovine indifference to the nature of the crisis. Some are munching contentedly on the grass and a few pick up their heads because they think they hear the howl of wolves. Both kinds will get killed if they don’t take appropriate action. Every year another cohort of millions of children enter this broken system. Every year millions of children from multiple cohorts leave – some to to college, some to private schools or home schools, and (unfortunately) some to jail.

    For each family it’s a crisis; for the hirelings running the show it’s a concern.

    (Sorry to get so strident, but just because the water isn’t at a rolling boil yet doesn’t mean we’re not being cooked.)

    I’m simultaneously encouraged and worried by the initiatives the current DoED has launched. I’m encouraged because we need to learn how to measure, evaluate, intervene, and modify our practices. I’m worried because I think we measure what’s easy instead of what’s necessary. Accurate measurement and aggregation and analysis and reporting of the wrong data primitives won’t lead to useful outcomes.

    Let me unpack these two thoughts:
    >>>Measurement and analysis – why?>>Measuring what’s important instead of what’s easy.>>Time to herd – or flee – or evolve?<
    The crisis at hand is that the system we've had for only a little longer than a century isn't suited for the demands of the next decade (let alone the next century). Without serious course correction and retooling the system will exponentially expand a permanent underclass ill-suited for anything more than receiving bread-and-circuses from an increasingly imperial and decadent government. This will cause the fall of our Republic. The opportunity in the midst of this crisis is to *refine* the creativity and energy of children and teach them to be creators and not merely consumers.

    Are the folks in control of policy and funding and hiring and firing and training capable of changing our direction? Are the policies and practices enablers of change or agents of stasis? If not, perhaps it’s time to seek folks who haven’t been formed by and experienced in the ways of a failing system and instead change the rules and leaders to adopt the ways of something successful. The remaining policy question becomes whether or not change can be continuous or must be discontinous. Fortunately, we don’t need to guess – there is a pretty good practice of “Management of Change” that’s developed over the last several years. We should apply these ideas and could quickly identify which clusters of educational practice can smoothly transition from current to desired future states and which ones simply require a big bang of discontinous change.

    The bovine indifference of many of our leaders? Herding together and doing the same thing while hoping you’re not one of the weak ones that get picked off isn’t a good strategy. Neither is stampeding madly off into the distance (where there might be worse dangers like a cliff). It’s time to learn to stand upright, develop opposable thumbs, and create tools and master fire. Tame the wolves and make them faithful dogs.