Silver bullets to crackers

Jonathan Rauch finds the silver bullet for education — homework — but you’ll need an Atlantic subscription to read the whole thing. Education Gadfly has a summary:

In this month’s Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch poses the question: “Suppose I told you that I knew of an education reform guaranteed to raise the achievement levels of American students; that this reform would cost next to nothing and would require no political body’s approval; and that it could be implemented overnight by anybody of a mind of undertake it. You would jump at it, right?” As it turns out, no. Educators, school administrators, and parents increasingly discourage the one education reform that has proven results at no cost (other than students’ time): homework. This despite the evidence that, on average, American students do very little homework. Yes, we know the stories of the Ivy-bound elite who spend hours slaving over homework each night, but they are decidedly the exception. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, “two-thirds of 17-year-olds did less than an hour of homework on a typical night . . . [and] 40 percent did no homework at all.”

Students admit they’re not working very hard: In a 2001 survey, 71 percent of high school and middle school students agreed with that most students in their school did “the bare minimum to get by.” Yet adults don’t push for more.

Also on Gadfly: The new superintendent in Washington, D.C. has his priorities in order, but can he overcome bureaucratic inertia? The Washington Post interviewed Clifford B. Janey, the District’s fifth superintendent in nine years.

He said he would consider contracting out “those operations that affect the quality of life of students” until the school system’s “internal capacity” to run those operations is improved.

Janey wants D.C. to adopt learning standards, a core curriculum and possibly high school graduation exams.

He called for raising teacher certification standards and said he is likely to push for new clauses in the next teachers’ contract to hold them more accountable for student performance. Regarding relations with principals, he said they need more authority over hiring teachers but may have too much leeway in determining curriculum.

. . . Janey said he would consider shutting schools that have low or declining enrollment and in some cases sharing the buildings with space-strapped charter schools, which have soared in popularity since they were first authorized in 1995.

He said he would like to use some of the buildings to create “parent education centers” that would offer classes on effective parenting and information on special and bilingual education and other services.

Janey also called for collaborating with charter schools rather than fighting “a new civil war.”

Finally, England’s chief schools inspector, David Bell, calls trendy education ideas of the ’60s and ’70s incoherent and sometimes “plain crackers.”

Speaking in Chester-le-Street, Mr Bell said pupils needed a well-rounded curriculum, including basic skills.

And he rejected the “incoherent” approach of over-liberal teaching.

In a lecture at the Hermitage School, Mr Bell defended the importance of a “broad and rich” national curriculum, spelling out what pupils should be expected to learn.

Bell singled out “the notion that children learn to read by osmosis” as crackers.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Bluemount says:

    Homework is fine, but we don’t need parent education to help us with that. My son had more homework in elementary school than high school. The orchestration of the work was offensive. Over 100 children were assigned book reports on the same subject, only there weren’t that many books in town. Teacher’s demanded large, time-consuming 3 dimensional art projects, and then DEMANDED that parents clean up. One year my son was told to keep ***14*** folders organized on the outstanding work assignments in various subjects. The homework was not collected or graded by the teacher. My son ‘team leader’ ripped up one homework assignment because he mispelled a word. An she liked to stand in front of the ‘mail bins’ and prevent people from turning their work in or removing it from their mailbox. The teacher thought it was best left up to the children to work these things out. In high school most teachers provided the number of homeworks a child was allowed to miss, usually around 5.
    Yes homework is a good thing. Making it unrewarding, inaccurate and impossible for a parent to achieve is misguided. Parenting effectiveness classes are largely about telling parents to shutup and tell the teachers they are doing a good job even if their children suffer. The gentle transition of expecting a homework assignment everyday, getting consistent feedback and adult authority was missing. If teachers do not excell in providing children with gentle transitions and clear guidelines the children will drift in bizarre directions.

  2. Also on Gadfly: The new superintendent in Washington, D.C. has his priorities in order, but can he overcome bureaucratic inertia?

    The unvoiced assumption in that sentence is that the bureaucracy is always and forever. The singular accomplishment of the entire charter school movement is to prove that assumption false.

    The sooner the superflousness of the bureaucracy becomes clear the sooner we can start to remove this vast impediment to improving education in the U.S.

  3. My kindergardener gets lots of homework from an amazing teacher who’s not afraid to use a red pen and correct mistakes. This week’s homework:

    * Read all her new pages (4) in her Literacy Notebook (actually a looseleaf binder)
    * Sentence activities (Find 5 sentences from the newspaper, mark the capital letters, vowels, consonants)
    * Understanding activities (read an article,
    specify whether it is fiction or non-fiction, state 4 facts learned)
    * Build a phonogram wheel (This week: “ay”)
    * 2 math worksheets
    * 2 phonics worksheets
    This keeps her busy for an hour a day for an entire week.

    In contrast, my 2nd grader’s homework:
    * Do one worksheet
    * Learn a list of spelling words and use them in an essay.

    Younger child is flowering. Elder child is merely getting by.

  4. Yes homework is a good thing. Making it unrewarding, inaccurate and impossible for a parent to achieve is misguided.

    Bluemount, I think you really hit the nail on the head here. Most of the homework I did in high school was busy work, because the school had a policy which said 30-45 minutes of work per night per (academic) class. Most teacher were incapable of coming up with that much meaningful work per night, and therefore assigned busy work.

    One of the problems with homework, especially in high school, is that teachers just assign the work from the book. Most textbooks are so badly constructed that any assignment out of them is nothing more than busy work.

    Homework will only be productive if teachers assign meaningful assignments and take the time to grade them and address weaknesses in the students’ learning.

    Also, the whole idea of peer grading is dubious at best, and in elementary school is irresponsible. Kids aren’t mature enough at that age to grade other kids’ work, period. Bluemount, that teacher you wrote about should be fired, period.

  5. Bluemount says:

    Adrian, I wish it was one teacher. I believe it was trying to manage public education as a company that cause the havoc. Some assignments were too difficult for my son to perform, he didn’t write as well as the average child. I expected him to get more structured exercise. I though he should use the paper with the little dot in the middle of two bold lines and work on his alphabet. He was in first grade, he was never taught or prepared to do the work. But that wasn’t the teacher’s responsibility, that was my responsibility and he wasn’t ‘allowed’ to use the paper I thought best suited his needs. Instead he was place in with ‘good influences’, little girls who wrote better. I was also pressured to medicate him so he would try harder. This is totally unnessasary. He wrote better than his older brother at the same age and his older brother graduated from Yale. In the past a kid who had problems with a subject would have been prescribed more exercise and more structured exercise. That was not the responsibility of the teacher and it was my responsibility to find a ‘specialist’ who could give the child the help they need. I wanted him held back but the school refused.

    I disagree about grading. Grading is important communication to parents and child. Parents need to understand specifically what detail a child is struggling with, and how that relates to the goals of the class. I do not believe in high stakes abuse, but I do believe communicating a success plan for a child is exactly what teacher should be responsible for. I do believe if the interest of skilled teachers was empowered the children would do much better. You can’t expect teachers to feel responsible when they aren’t empowered to act.

    Using small social groups as a form of education has limited value at any age (including high tech corporations). It takes a LOT of adult, mature, authoritive power to effectively drive a team of mature, skilled adults… trying to mimic that with children is distructive and should be a crime. Children make poor teachers, they are immature, unskilled, lack authenic authority and at best learn to be bullies. My son described his elementary school as armies, cliques of bullies arranged by a teacher.

    Parent involvement was very corrupt. I was told by the principal of his first grade school that she did ‘favors’ for people who ‘told her things’. I have no idea what I would tell her, the thought that I needed to be a community spy to have my son placed in an appropriate class sicked me. Parents were rewarded for ostracizing a family in order to communicate that a child was misbehaving. This is a very dangerous practice because we do know that children die when they are ostracized (through depression or suicide) and the family never overcomes being stigmatized. It does result in violence toward a targeted family and is an effective tool for removing families from a district. The stress devasted targeted families and forever altered their lives. I think child advocacy lawyers are very aware of these practices, but often they are cooperating with the school in exchange for special education privilages for their clients. The cooperative relationship favors both groups. In order to be a good parent you needed to do some bad things.

    Administrators singled out teachers they didn’t like or wanted to retire with large classrooms and more difficult children. Teachers who cooperated and worked with the administrators to achieve those ‘goals’ became more corrupt as they were older and less able to change careers. In real corporations a well developed employee is an asset, this is not so in a school. The long term welfare of a child commodity is only important if the parent is influencial or the value of a child is measured by their parents. It’s no wonder admistrators need to play the ‘bad parents’ drum in order arrange a measured success.

  6. Don’t you mean “magic bullet”? Silver bullets are for killing werevolves.

  7. Bluemount, it sounds like your teacher is a progressive educator. These people (I personally diegn to call them educators since they do nothing of the sort) believe that kids should construct their own knowledge so that it will be meaningful and authentic. Sounds like claptrap, well it is. But your son’s teacher is displaying all the signs of the classic progressive educator.

    The first one is that she believes he will learn better from his peers than from a teacher. This is false. Kids are wired to learn more from adults, not other children. Instead of sticking your struggling son with girls who write better, the teacher should be addressing your son’s needs. (But you know this already.) The truth about this tactic, sticking the better students in to help the worse students, is that it frustrates all involved. Students like your son are frustrated at not being taught, and students like the girls you mention will be frustrated since they’re expected to help your son but aren’t taught how.

    The second sign is that your son’s teacher won’t assign grades to your son’s work. Progressive educators fret and worry that they can’t grade the entire child, or that a bad grade will hurt the child’s self-esteem. Again, this is false. If the teacher is doing his job right, then he won’t be grading the whole child, but rather the child’s performance in specific activities. How did the child do on this math worksheet? Outstanding? Then he earned an A. Poorly? Then he earned a D. It lets the child know how he did against a set standard, which is the way kids operate, and it lets the parents know how he did. Getting a bad grade, and then being helped to do better the next time, can be a powerful confidence building experience.

    The third sign is the teacher’s refusal to ingrain fundamental skills. Progressive educators mockingly refer to this as drill-and-kill, completely overlooking the fact that these kinds of exercises are a necessary foundation upon which to build stubstantive knowledge. Progressive educators say drill-and-kill exercises stifle creativity. This is false. I speak from personal experience that spending a lot of time (hundreds of hours at the minimum) on music theory exercises has made me a more creative composer, not a less creative one. When I first started writing music, I wrote entirely by ear, using only the tiniest fraction of sounds available. Only through a thorough education in theory did I learn what wonderful sounds I had at my finger tips. The same is true of almost any disciple. People need to have command of the basic skills before they can really spread their wings and fly. Progressive educators deny them that chance.

    The final hallmark of progressive educators is their inability or unwillingness to order topics in a way that builds knowledge sequentially. Don’t start assigning sentence writing until the students can correctly form letters. This sounds like common sense doesn’t it? Well IT IS! Except in schools of education, of course, where they insist “higher order skills” be taught at all times. Expecting children to write entire sentences when they’re still having trouble forming their p’s and q’s is not progressive, it’s cruel. This same idiocy now abounds in our schools, and has led to untold failure and misery.

    So, I hope you can see how your son’s teacher’s education philosophy is causing the problems you have, not the management structure.

    With regards to the parental involvement at your school, that needs to be investigated, since it sounds almost like a soccer-mom mafioso. If what you say is true, the principal and other administrators at that school should be fired for employing some very abusive practices.

    I hope all of this helps some.

  8. Bluemount says:

    So, I hope you can see how your son’s teacher’s education philosophy is causing the problems you have, not the management structure.
    Ardrian, those are good thought. I have read about progressive education and yes, it’s a problem. Yes there are some people in management who have behaved criminally. It concerns me because I think progressive education is a good cover for corruption.

  9. The unvoiced assumption in that sentence is that the bureaucracy is always and forever. The singular accomplishment of the entire charter school movement is to prove that assumption false.

    Yes and no. Bureaucracy grows like a weed for a good reasons. As those reasons accumulate, the bureaucracy regrows until it finally gets so unbearable that people cut it back to the ground. And so the next cycle begins.

    The reasons themselves are very hard to fight against. Usually it has to do with proving fairness and attempting to avoid catastrophic situations.

    The charter schools have started fresh, but in a few years when situations have arisen, there may be an almost irresistable push to have the bureaucracy that

    proves that children with physical disabilities are being treated appropriately, or
    proves teachers merit pay is unrelated to having the same ethnic background as the principal, or
    prevents a tragedy when a child “transferred” schools, but never actually attended the next school, or
    prevents a school from ordering all its supplies from the principal’s brother-in-law, or
    a school could not say whether certain ethnic groups were dropping out at higher rates, etc., etc.

    All of these are “good” reasons to have bureaucracy, and it’s pretty hard to say no to each individual reason. As it accumulates, eventually somebody does something. But don’t expect the charters to be immune. Trying to make something better is simply the human condition :-).

  10. Tom West wrote:

    Bureaucracy grows like a weed for a good reasons.

    Well sure. The comparison to weeds is an apt one. Given the appropriate conditions and no disruptions, bureaucracy is inevitable.

    The public education system, like all government organizations, provides conditions very conducive to the growth of bureaucracy. Plenty of fertilizer (money) and insulation from the sources of periodic disruption.

    I won’t bother with all the reasons why bureaucracy thrives in public education but charter schools provide clear evidence that bureaucracy isn’t necessary to the development of a good school. That distinction is necessary because the good schools that are district-based are operating in a bureaucratized environment. You can’t tell if the bureaucracy is necessary or an impediment simply because, in a district, the school and the administrative bureaucracy always go together.

    With a charter there’s no district and no district bureaucracy. It makes explicit what’s intuitively obvious: the basic unit of educational organization is the school. A larger organization brings nothing to the process either in terms of organizational efficiencies or educational outcome.

    What’s important about that observation is that it undercuts part of the reason for existance of school districts and puts a spotlight on the cost, educational and monetary, of the district. Previously, the district structure was simply a fact of life and no amount of grousing about waste and bureaucracy was going to accomplish any more then make the grousees feel a little better for a litte while.

    But the success of charters changes that.

    If one charter works then why not two? Ten? A thousand? Why not all charters?

    What exactly do all those administrators, assistant adiministrators, administrative assistants and vice-administrators bring to the education process? If charters do not need them then why do we have them? Charters make clear that they aren’t necessary so why not get rid of them and hire more teachers? Pay teachers more? Fix school buildings? Buy books?

    The key element though is the existance of functioning public schools without all that administrative overburden.

    Will charter schools develop non-productive bureaucracies? Yes and no.

    There’ll always be some principle who can be sweet-talked into hiring an assistant they don’t really need. Vanity and laziness are part of human nature, after all. But charter schools are smaller organizations and the non-productive personnel are more noticeable.

    Parents, the people who, on a day-to-day basis, decide on the economic viability of the school, are much more likely to want to know whether the money being spent on an assistant principle mightn’t be better spent on another teacher.

    That brings us to the next reason why bureaucracies will have a tough time taking root in charters.

    If a large enough percentage of the parents sending their kids to that particular charter school don’t get the answer they want to hear then they’ll take junior to the charter school on the other side of the street. At that point the value of that administrative assistant becomes moot as the school closes its doors. No more bureaucracy.

    Obviously, this is a subject I can warm up to….

  11. There’ll always be some principals who can be sweet-talked into hiring an assistant they don’t really need. Vanity and laziness are part of human nature, after all. But charter schools are smaller organizations and the non-productive personnel are more noticeable.

    I think that’s somewhat unfair. In almost all cases I see bureaucracy grow out of a need (at the time) to enforce standards of fairness or safety, rathen than simple vanity. The examples that I gave are the sort of abuses that a bureaucracy can prevent.

    Simply put. if we junk bureaucracy, we’d better be prepared for the occasional unpleasant suprise or tragedy. That’s why the bureaucracy was created in the first place. It’s a tradeoff – and if one isn’t clear that there’s even a price to be paid for doing without the a bureaucracy, then you’re bound to lose the battle. Know *why* it exists, and know the very real value it does provide. *Then* decide if the cost is worth the value.

    If it’s still not clear, then take the silly extreme, and have the principal dole out all moneys, no records kept. This is maximally efficient, with no one wasting time doing bookkeeping. So, it’s obvious that we all believe in *some* bureaucracy. The question is merely how much…

  12. Tom West wrote:

    I think that’s somewhat unfair.

    Why? You don’t think vanity and laziness are part of human nature and that it won’t manifest itself organizationally in sloppy staffing requirements?

    In almost all cases I see bureaucracy grow out of a need (at the time) to enforce standards of fairness or safety, rathen than simple vanity.

    The rationale for the genesis of a bureaucracy might be to serve a need or to enforce standards of fairness or safety but bureaucracies exist over time. What’s to keep them on mission, keeping firmly in mind that bureaucracies are made up of people and it’s a little unrealistic to expect the organization to exhibit only the admirable traits of the individuals who make it up.

    Simply put. if we junk bureaucracy, we’d better be prepared for the occasional unpleasant suprise or tragedy.

    More unpleasant then the state of all big-city school districts? More occasional? I don’t think so.

    Know *why* it exists, and know the very real value it does provide. *Then* decide if the cost is worth the value.

    How about not being so coy then? Stop hinting around and describe the result of getting rid of the public education bureacracy. I’m surrounded with the evidence of the failure and wastefulness of that bureaucracy but there seems precious little in the way of evidence to make the case for that bureaucracy’s value.

    If it’s still not clear, then take the silly extreme, and have the principal dole out all moneys, no records kept.

    That “silly extreme” is already being successfully explored. Of the +3,000 charter schools in the U.S., most are single-building enterprises which do quite well without a multi-tiered bureaucracy. I don’t think you specious, possibly self-serving, “no records kept” remark is worthy of response.

    So, it’s obvious that we all believe in *some* bureaucracy.

    What we believe is that bureaucracy ought to be viewed in the same light as surgery: a scary, last resort after all other possibilities, including doing nothing, have been exhaustively investigated. That’s what we believe.

    In any case, none of this “bad things might happen” handwaving has the least effect on the success of charters and the subsequent, natural questioning of the value of the public education bureaucracy. If you’ve got successful charters, sooner or later, the question about the value of the public education bureaucracy will arise.

  13. Simply put. if we junk bureaucracy, we’d better be prepared for the occasional unpleasant suprise or tragedy.

    More unpleasant then the state of all big-city school districts? More occasional? I don’t think so.

    Ah, that’s the rub. A big bureaucracy is like a very expensive (and not always sucessful) insurance policy. It’s created to avoid incident, usually in the direct response to a problem that has just occurred, when everyone is feeling the effect of the problem and not weighing the cost of avoiding it.

    If you don’t give any credence to what it *can* do, then you’r not going to be in any position to say that we are carefully weighing the costs and are prepared to pay for the problems that the absence of such a bureaucracy will have.

    Without that knowledge, you’re doomed to give in the first time that a fraud is discovered, a child is hurt, or lawsuits pop up and destroy a charter. Remember, that it’s dead easy for a lawyer to say that failure to take measures to prevent a problem is tantamount to condoning it.

    As as for the “no records kept” remark, it’s not specious. Keeping records *is* bureaucracy. In other words, my point is the fact that *some* bureaucracy is needed is accepted by everyone. (That’s why the silly point). So, the question is merely how much.

  14. Andy Freeman says:

    > prevents a tragedy when a child “transferred” schools, but never actually attended the next school

    US public schools don’t do that now, so why would charters feel the need?

    Yes, it’s possible that a given charter would go bad over time. With choice, that’s not a problem – folks would just move to a school that hadn’t gone bad.

    I’m a bit confused why West didn’t see that option.

  15. Tom West wrote:

    A big bureaucracy is like a very expensive (and not always sucessful) insurance policy.

    What a useful analogy. Insurance companies, like public education bureaucracies, given an opportunity, will ignore their legal responsibilities to maximize their return. Unlike insurance companies, public school bureaucracies have no worries about being held accountable for their failure to perform.

    As as for the “no records kept” remark, it’s not specious. Keeping records *is* bureaucracy.

    Split hairs if it makes you feel better but once charters prove that the district-based administrative structure is unnecessary it won’t be people like me that start eyeing that part of the budget that goes to administration. It’ll be all the other groups vying for those government dollars.

  16. With choice, that’s not a problem – folks would just move to a school that hadn’t gone bad.

    The problem comes with the public’s response. When asked

    “Problem X happened at that school. What measures have you taken to prevent it happening here?”

    it takes exceptional fortitude to answer

    “Nothing. Because the cost of prevention is, in the end, worse than the problem itself.”

  17. once charters prove that the district-based administrative structure is unnecessary it won’t be people like me that start eyeing that part of the budget that goes to administration. It’ll be all the other groups vying for those government dollars.

    Possibly, but I suspect a more likely model is that *if* charters become widely successful, then in 10-15 years, they too will have much of the bureaucracy that currently exists in the public system. Many of the same forces that caused bureaucracy’s creation in the public system won’t magically disappear for the charters, and if it is public funds that are paying these schools, the pressure to meet the same standards will be enormous. Public bureaucracies are often larger and more out-of-control *because* of the perception that they are responsible to the taxpayer. Bureaucracy usually grows out of attempting to prove that responsibility.

    If nothing else, the current drive towards testing requires a substantial amount of bureaucracy to meet minimum reporting standards. Imagine a school that said “We give the students’ results to the students. We don’t provide aggregate results to the public because we’re busy teaching…”

  18. Tom West wrote:

    Possibly, but I suspect a more likely model is that *if* charters become widely successful, then in 10-15 years, they too will have much of the bureaucracy that currently exists in the public system.

    I doubt it if for no other reason then the relative sizes of charters versus school districts.

    The size of school districts is one of the factors that encourage the development of useless bureaucracies.

    Charters are, mostly, smaller and they’re likely to stay smaller because there’s very little in the way of economies of scale in education. That’s amply proven by the economies of scale that don’t materialize after school districts consolidate despite the uniform promises of economies of scale that preceed consolidation. It’s also proven by the success of charters that both do very nicely without the bureaucratic hierarchy that attends district-based schools or the budget which district-based education establishments always find inadequate.

    Many of the same forces that caused bureaucracy’s creation….

    Maybe, but is that a reason not to embrace an educational venue that, at least, gets rid of unproductive costs for that period of time?

    Besides, you’re assuming that the dollars that go to support the armys of bureaucrats now will be available to rebuild them in a post-district based future. I don’t think that’s a safe assumption.

    There are plenty of grasping hands waiting to snag every state or federal dollar that becomes available. Like a wounded piranha, if some current tax revenue recipient looks like they can’t hang onto their share of the pie the other recipients will be all too happy to wrench away every dollar they can manage to.

    Public bureaucracies are often larger and more out-of-control *because* of the perception that they are responsible to the taxpayer.

    Sorry, those bureaucracies are always larger and more out of control because of their distance from the public. Accountability is tenous, infrequent and subborned by those who get value from the bureaucracy. Accountability is anathema to all bureaucracies and mitigating responsibility is always a high priority.

    Imagine a school that said “We give the students’ results to the students. We don’t provide aggregate results to the public because we’re busy teaching…”

    I can imagine that. I can also imagine that school closing its doors because the other schools in town are willing to provide that information so that prospective student’s parents can compare the various schools. No comparison? No sale. Hasta la vista, baby.

  19. I doubt it if for no other reason then the relative sizes of charters versus school districts.

    That’s a very good point. As in any organization, it’s more efficient to have many little groups than one large one *until* the point that they start stepping on each other, etc. However, that’s not likely to happen with schools.

    The interesting question becomes: If charters become the dominant form of schooling, just what bureaucracy is going to inform parents of how and where to get their kids educated, etc. Depending on the initiative of parents to find an education for their kids (as it is with private schools) is going to leave quite a number of kids in the cold…

    Anyway, starting from scratch is not a bad thing.

    The point of my posts is not bureaucracy is good. It’s against assuming that bureaucracy is a malign creature imposed from without. It occurs for natural sociological reasons, and some level is required for healthy functioning of a school. Failure to understand that seems setting oneself up to be ambushed by it later. That, and assuming the public schools embraced bureaucracy because they’re stupid, or evil, or both :-). It’s a natural response to a very strong drive in any organization, private *or* public.

    Besides, you’re assuming that the dollars that go to support the armys of bureaucrats now will be available to rebuild them in a post-district based future. I don’t think that’s a safe assumption.

    I think there’s a distinct possibility that the money will be taken from other budgets the first time that the charter next door gets sued for several million dollars and closed down because a playground accident revealed that the school didn’t have a suitable playground safety commitee review the playground equipment. Or that the field trip forms that parents signed were not worded appropriately to avoid suit when a child was hit by a car, etc, etc.

    (And just to be fair to bureaucracy, there’s always a chance that a playground safety review committee would indeed catch something that makes the chance of accident lower – of course, more likely they simply de-fun the playground.)

    Bureaucracy is a way of avoiding being resposible for things. And it is a natural response in a world where individuals are keen to allocate responsibility to any organizations even vaguely associated with an accident or tragedy. Let’s hope that charters can resist the drive towards bureaucracy for as long as possible.

  20. Tom West wrote:

    That’s a very good point. As in any organization, it’s more efficient to have many little groups than…

    Thanks but, wrongo. Some enterprises benefit greatly from economies of scale, some don’t.

    There’s a size range in which the greatest efficiency and utility is achieved. Go outside that range, either bigger or littler, and important advantages are lost. Determining that size range is, I think, not an exact science but the punishment for getting it wrong is pretty hard to miss, at least in the industrial arena.

    In public education though, aggregating school districts has, to the best of my knowledge, been a uniform failure. The bigger districts get the less responsive and the more wasteful they become.

    Depending on the initiative of parents to find an education for their kids (as it is with private schools) is going to leave quite a number of kids in the cold…

    Maybe but depending on bureaucrats hasn’t exactly resulted in an educational bonanza either. If it’s a choice between the supposed expertise of the bureaucrats and the incontestable concern of the parents I think I’ll pick the parents.

    The point of my posts is not bureaucracy is good. It’s against assuming that bureaucracy is a malign creature imposed from without.

    Is that what you thought I meant? Wrong again.

    I don’t think bureaucracy is a malign creature imposed from without. I think bureaucracy is a malign creature that’s a natural function of organization, that is, imposed from within. Bureaucracy grows where conditions permit growth and nothing interferes with growth. Like kudzu. If it isn’t periodically trimmed back the bureaucracy will substitute its requirements for the requirements of the organization it ostensibly serves.

    I think there’s a distinct possibility that the money will be taken from other budgets the first time that the charter next door gets sued for several million dollars….

    Trying to scare the rubes with stories about the big, bad plaintiff’s bar? Whatever the validity of a concern like that it has nothing to do with the educational value of either large school districts or their attendant bureaucracy’s.