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Monday, November 28, 2011

A Bad Taste

I can't help but ponder the impact of the various state and federal mandates imposed upon public schools. More is expected of us at a time that less is offered to us in the form of material and monetary resources. The image comes to mind of the "pushmi-pullyu" animal from the story, Dr. Doolittle. The pushmi-pullyu (pronounced "push-me—pull-you") is a "gazelle-unicorn cross" which has two heads (one of each) at opposite ends of its body. When it tries to move, both heads try to go in opposite directions. (Wikipedia)

I will paraphrase an excerpt from the book Making It Happen, by Alan Weiss to explain how this process of mandates ultimately filters down to the individual classroom.
A dog food company launched its new approach to 'lifetime canine nutrition' with great fanfare, using innovative techniques in its promotion, packaging, and dealer incentives. However, after a brief sales surge, the company was horrified to see their market share decline by 15%, with prospects of continued decrease. In an effort to find who to blame the crusty CEO convened a meeting and pursued this question with each of his vice presidents. "All right," he bellowed, "who blew it! Each executive exhibited a great deal of anxiety and sweated as they explained how they used the latest, most sophisticated techniques in customer surveys, packaging displays, rebate offers, dealer discounts, etc...

This did not satisfy the angry CEO. "Well, if everything followed the strategy so precisely," screamed the president, "then why isn't the stuff selling?" Finally, a raised hand appeared at the rear of the room. It belonged to a lowly management trainee. "I think I know what the problem is, sir."

"You do! Well tell me what is it, since all of these highly paid department heads can't seem to explain the reason!"
"The dogs," reported the trainee matter of factly, "just don't like the stuff".

Ah, after all of the regulations from Washington and Albany, the end product eventually produces a poor taste. I believe the process is actually the reason for resistance more than the proposed product. In particular, these requirements may be disdained by those who decry the loss of local control of public education. Boards of education and school leaders are deprived of opportunities to exercise policies and practices preferred by the community they serve - from curriculum to evaluation, from resource allocation to assessment standards.

It just doesn't seem practical to levy uniform requirements across such a disparate array of schools. A plan like this appears to ignore the vast differences inherent in a diverse population across the state with respect to values and beliefs and the ability to generate revenue juxtapositioned with the needs of each community.

There are plenty of examples of two school districts equal in the number of learners they serve yet widely different in the amount of funding available to them to respond to the needs of their learners. Equal in this case is not equitable. The gap between rich and poor schools is widening. The concern is not unlike the issue playing out in headlines across the country whereby a greater share of wealth is distributed a tiny minority of our population.

In sum, there are many schools struggling to meet basic instructional needs while a similar number have the capacity to go well beyond needs and address instructional wants. That scenario leaves a bad taste.

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