(A caution that those who try to swim with sharks
may be "at risk".)
R. Lloyd Ryan
There is a growing body of literature extolling the virtues of planning the curriculum on the basis of the "narratives of experience" of teachers (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988). These narratives or personal stories are supposed to reveal the "personal practical knowledge" of teachers (Clandinin, 1985, 1986; Elbaz, 1983) and teachers' personal knowledge (Clandinin & Connelly, 1986) of what happens in classrooms. The implication is that teachers should have more autonomy in curricular decisions, consistent with the contemporary ideology that says that schools should be locally managed. This is a translation to the educational arena of the local control theories in business and industry, such as those advocated by Peters & Waterman (1982). These authors have since backed away, considerably, from their earlier "site-based management" positions, and many of their exemplary corporations have tightened administrative and managerial reins. However, it appears that many educational theorists have not gotten beyond In Search of Excellence (Maybe, they didn't manage to get through it!?), and are "gung-ho!" for administrative and managerial structures which major corporations have already abandoned.
This advocacy is consistent with the well-articulated assumption that education will be (automatically?) better if control of education is transferred to the local level.
It is with some trepidation that this automaticity, of better education emanating from simply giving school administrators and teachers more local control and autonomy, may be challenged. Caution, however, is in order. Greg Malone (1991), a comedian, says "There's a gap between what is presented to you as reality and what you know to be reality" (p. 7). That insight may very well apply to the current push for local control, a concern seemingly shared by those advocating a national curriculum. This attempt at educational change may be destined for failure (Sarason, 1990), at least in terms of children's lives and education.
One of the major factors contributing to possible failure of contemporary educational change efforts may be the existence of gaps of knowledge between the various education-related communities of concern: the theorists, usually university-based; legislators; district-level administrators and supervisory personnel; school-level administrators; and teachers in classrooms (Wayson et al, p. 16), a characteristic of what is being called "loosely coupled systems" (See e.g. Weick, 1982). Between each of these communities are gaps of knowledge, divergences in how the situation is seen. The extent of this divergence is illustrated by Fullan (1982) who says "We have a classic case of two entirely different worlds - the policy maker on the one hand, and the local practitioner on the other hand ("divergent worlds" as Cowden & Cohen, 1979, call them). To the extent that each side is ignorant of the subjective world of the other, reform will fail - and the extent is great" (p. 74).
Seeming to respond to a sense of dissonance between what educators presumably know from their specialized studies, on the one hand, and their educational practices, on the other, Glickman (1991) articulates some of the related problems. He points out, for example, the research-supported inferences that tracking, retention, and corporal punishment do not help students. Furthermore, he summarizes much recent learning-brain and related research which supports the notion that students learn from involvement in real activity rather than from lectures, passive listening, and completing worksheets, the primary modes of "teaching" characterizing contemporary classroom activity (Goodlad, 1984). He also articulates several other sound educational principles, challenging methodologies of teacher evaluation, the ideology of "principals as instructional leaders," the ineffectiveness of standardized testing, and so on. Then, in a sleight of hand that would be the envy of Houdini, he pulls the restructuring and local management of schools ideology out of an educational magician's hat.
It is important to question whether such popular ideologies are no more than "...superficial actions that have been touted as responses to the call for excellence" (Wayson, p. 9). It has to be questioned whether the clarion call for restructuring is not just another such superficial action, and a politically expedient one. Wayson (1988) says that "policy makers who do not want real improvement, or who want it cheap, or who have extraordinary conceit about their powers of persuasion, or who believe so completely in the concept of divine right, will deny or ignore the evidence derived from experience and discover once again that digging in the same hole in the same way merely creates a larger hole" (p. 13). Wayson also recognizes that "the decision unit most crucial to authentic reform is the individual teacher in the classroom" who has "veto power over reforms initiated at other decision levels" (p. 17).
But, what is happening in the classroom? Galton (1980) discovered classroom instruction to be "overwhelmingly factual and managerial" (p. 157) and that "the idea of engaging students in more interactional higher-order cognitive tasks in a class of 30 was highly impractical, if not impossible. Some teachers do succeed, but it requires an enormous amount of skill and energy if they are left to find the way on their own" (Fullen, p. 111), findings echoed by Goodlad (1984).
Are these the frustrated and over-worked people to whom local control is going to be given, despairing people, desperate to survive, who are reduced to "finding and using recipes for busy kitchens" (Huberman, 1980). Furthermore, "on the whole, teachers at all levels apparently [do] not know how to vary their instructional procedures,[do] not want to, or [have] some kind of difficulty doing so" (Goodlad, 1984, p. 106).
Besides, teachers already have all the freedom they could possibly use! As Goodlad observed "teachers ... [appear] to be quite autonomous in all areas central to their teaching" (p. 110).
If schools are restructured, how will principals exercise their instructional leadership functions (despite Glickman's misgivings) as articulated by Smith & Andrews (1989), and how will parents be guaranteed that children will be taught according to how the learning brain functions (Hart, 1975, 1983; Restak, 1984: Dunn, 1985; Caine & Caine, 1991)? One jurisdiction1 estimates that it will take three years for local school faculties to learn to make decisions, and that no other inservice activity should take place while the faculties are engaged in this new learning. The PSI League of Professional Schools Program at The University of Georgia2 shows just how difficult it really is to effectively deploy the local management procedures. Murphy (1991) echoes this difficulty in her account of a process in which district and local administrators of one Georgia school district are engaging in to pursue restructuring. She specifically mentions some existing impediments undermining the needed related staff development (p. 4).
While numerous authors are advocating local control of schools, there is a dearth of research into just what happens when a faculty is left to make significant educational decisions. Who is interviewing principals and teachers who are struggling with the implementation of this ideology? Does the practice square with the claims? What is the "at-the-school-level reality" of restructuring, of local control, and of significant measures of local autonomy? That is, if teachers are to make curriculum and instruction plans based on their unique experiences, are principals also to follow the same route? What if teachers' experiences and principals' experiences differ - as they most assuredly will? What if different teachers have come to different - maybe even contradictory - conclusions? What is the effect on teachers? On principals? And, most importantly of all, what is the effect on children? What is happening to Children while administrators are seeking consensus about restructuring among their faculties? What happens to children if the supposedly needed consensus is not found, or if teachers and administrators have to take years to develop decision-making skills, assuming a core of educators are still remaining on-site after time and related energies have been expended?
It is worth noting that one school faculty, in Minnesota, tried to implement the jargon and have discovered that it is extremely difficult, and just too demanding on their personal lives and personal time (eg. evenings, Saturdays, and Sundays), to assume the site-based responsibilities that restructuring seems to imply (Gursky, 1990). My own experience is that teachers are prepared to spend about an hour a week on school decision-making (e.g. faculty and committee meetings). There is no doubt that teachers are intensely interested in decision-making, want to be involved, and know that their involvement is welcome, in many schools, anyway. However, the needs of their children and spouses, other personal obligations and responsibilities, and relaxation needs severely limit the non-paid time they are able to devote to school management. Besides, as they are quick to point out, they have assignments to correct and lessons to prepare.
Teachers have quickly realized, and articulated, that if they are to be meaningfully involved in true site-based management, then time will have to be allocated out of the regular instructional day, a move necessitating hiring new teachers - an unlikely eventuality in the current age of restraint!
In fact, many teachers and principals are casting jaundiced eyes at the attempt to foist an inordinate amount of accountability on their shoulders. They are astute enough to realize that accountability resides at the level of decision-making! Related to that, Carnoy (1991) says "It is not surprising that most teachers and principals are leary of reform, and many of those who have bought in are verging on burnout" (p. 5).
In fact, despite the move to "empower" teachers, even against their collective will, it has to be questioned whether teachers want - or need - to be "empowered" any more than they are. Maybe, all they want, and really need, is real support and sufficient resources to get the job done.
Caine, R.N. & Caine, G. (1991). Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Carnoy, M. (May, 1991). The downside of restructuring. Education Digest, 3-6.
Connelly, E.M. & Clandinin, D.J. (1988). Teachers as Curriculum Planners: Narratives of Experience. Toronto: OISE Press/New York: Teachers College Press.
Cowden, P. & Cohen, D. (1979). Divergent Worlds of Practice. Cambridge, MA: Huron Institute.
Dunn, R. & Dunn, B.A. (September, 1985). What does learning styles have to do with Mario? The Clearing House (59), p. 9-12.
Elbaz, F. (1983). Teacher Thinking: A Survey of Practical Knowledge. London: Croom Helm. Quoted in Connelly & Clandinin.
Fullan, M. (1982). The Meaning of Educational Change. Toronto: OISE Press.
Glickman, C. (May, 1991). Pretending not to know what we know. Educational Leadership, 48(8), 4-10.
Goodlad, J. (1984). A Place Called School: Prospects for the Future. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Gursky, D. (March, 1990). Without principal: Team management in Minnesota. Teacher Magazine, 1, 56-63.
Hart, L.A. (1975). How the Brain Works. New York: Basic Books.
________ (1983). Human Brain and Human Learning. New York: Longman.
Huberman, M. (1980). Finding and Using Recipes for Busy Kitchens: A Situational Analysis of Knowledge Use in Schools. Prepared for the program on Research and Educational Practice, National Institute of Canada, 1980. (Quoted by Fullen, 1982, p. 111.)
Malone, G. (June 22, 1991). From an interview and reported in "Those unstoppable Cod people". The Globe & Mail, p. C7.
Murphy, C. (October, 1991). Changing Organizational Culture Through Administrator Study Groups. The Developer. p. 1.
Peters, T. & Austin, N. (1985). A Passion for Excellence. New York: Random House.
Peters, T. & Waterman, R.H. (1982). In Search of Excellence. New York: Warner Books.
Restak, R.M. (1984). The Brain. New York: Bantam.
Sarason, S. (1990). The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform! Can we change the Course before It's Too Late? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Smith, W.F. & Andrews, R.L. (1989). Instructional Leadership: How Principals Make a Difference. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Weick, K.E. (June, 1984). Administering Education in Loosely Coupled Schools. Phi delta Kappan 63(1), 673-76.
Wayson, W.W. et al (1988). Up From Excellence:
The Impact of the Excellence Movement on Schools. Bloomington,
IN. Phi Delta Kappan Educational Foundation.
1. The Student at the Centre: Challenge for Excellence. Report of the School Improvement/Effectiveness Committee. St. John's, NF: Department of Education, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. January, 1990.
2. Insites. August, 1990 1(1); August, 1991 2(1).