I have to thank my esteemed colleague Professor Yong Zhao for the title of this post. My original title was going to be “when will they ever learn’ but as Yong suggested humans often repeat the same mistakes, pigs, like all animals don’t.
I am referring to the business of large scale school improvement. There are great examples of whole system improvement but then there are examples such as Newark in the US that make you want to hang your head and cry.
Dale Russakoff writes in depth in the New Yorker about the plan to transform schools in Newark and how it divided an already disempowered community. Add to the mix a $100 million donation by Facebook head, Mark Zuckerberg, an ambitious mayor, overpaid consultants and you can see where it may have gone wrong, and in a big way.
Had it succeeded, it would have turned a district of high-crime and low-performing schools into a national model but in education nothing happens quickly.
What saddened me aside from the bleak future for these students was that we continue to make the same mistakes based on the same set of assumptions – money can fix the system, change can be imposed top down, consultants know best and the community shouldn’t be involved in the decision-making process.
One person quoted in the article admits the strategy was doomed because it didn’t address the issue of poverty. Another said that “education reform…comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades. It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than cooperation with people.”
The point for me is that you can’t look to the past for answers. Yong Zhao says the same thing – there are many opportunities out there to do something different in education, not to copy but to invent from the ground-up.
This was the recurring theme at last week’s World Business Forum in Sydney. Michael Porter, Gary Hamel and Randi Zuckerberg were all talking about the need for creative leadership in the 21st century, doing things differently and taking risks. While there was no representative from education, everyone agreed that it was critical to the success of individuals and economies.
I’ve been lobbying our federal politicians for sometime for a similar forum, bringing together the world’s best educational thinkers and practitioners to Australia. It would be the beginning of a dialogue, an invitation to create alternatives to the current model of schooling and learn from past mistakes.