State of Genderal Educ LO6861
Sun, 21 Apr 1996 18:33:07 -0400

Replying to LO6682 --

Gary Scherling recently referred to a comparison of major problems in
schools as seen by teachers in 1960 and 1990. The thrust of this report
is that the kind of problems being faced by teachers and schools has
changed drastically, from chewing gum to committing suicide.

These surveys don't in fact exist or at least I have not been able to come
upon their sources. I understand that they were actually "invented" by a
conservative commentator and have been adopted into the common lore as an
indicator of how much decay there has been in our society.

I have followed the discussion on The State of Education on the list for
some time without chiming in...but this citation prompted me to share some
of my experiences and thoughts.

I have participated as a member of a High School Improvement Team for the
past 18 months and in that time have learned very much about why it is
improtant to really learn about a system before trying to "fix" it. I
joined this effort as a "community representative", selected because I
have hasd children in the school and I was verbal in my expression of
concern about how well our school was fulfulling its purpose.

I thought I could bring my knowledge of change and quality to the
"problem" and then quickly saw I needed to learn more about what the
problem is.

The "data" quoted above well illustrates how we bring erroneous
information into the dialogue and it pushes off the track, seeking
solutions to problems that are not at all relevant. This pattern follows
the basic archetypes postulated by Senge.

Pushed to learn more I have delved deeply into the available data about
the effectiveness of our schools and models that seem to work. I recently
discovered that this "data" was made up, intially presented by a
conservative commentator to bolster beleifs about the decay of our schools
and our society. Their appears to be no underlying data to support the
assertion, but the image caught on and the "data" has become part of the
common "truth." (I was personally embarrased when I encountered this
information because I had been citing this "study" for a number of years!)

I have encountered some learnings which have challenged me to rethink my
view of what we need to do to change the effectiveness of educational

1. Family income is most closely correlated with school performance. As
family income increases so does school performance. What does this tell
us about where we should be intervening in order to change educational
outputs? Maybe real change cannot come from just fopcusing on schools in
a vacuum.

2. American High Schools actually graduate larger percentages of age
eligible students than they did pre-WW II! What has changed is the number
of children who remain in school and our society's need (beleived need)
for larger portions of students to develop greater knowledge and skill.
We now keep in school many students who in other times would have left to
pursue careers on farms, in factories or other respected vocations.
Another interesting challenge for those of us thinking about the meaning
of current data and how best to improve schools. Raises questions about
the need to create well paying jobs requiring a range of skills and
talents, rather than viewing all future work as being
cognitively/conceptually based.

Improving education requries seeing a more complicated system than just
the school

Marty Levine
Associate General Director
JCC's of Chicago


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