After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform by Andrea Gabor

After the Education Wars

After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform by Andrea Gabor uses examples of successful and failing schools to demonstrate how the principles promoted by W. Edwards Deming can lead to school improvement. She provides extended histories of reforms in New York City, Massachusetts, Texas, and New Orleans to show how democratic grassroots reforms are more likely to work than the top-down approaches used in most states and cities. Everyone with the power to impact school reform needs to read this.

Introduction: The Quiet Revolution

  • Andrea starts by reviewing the work of W. Edwards Deming and how he helped Japanese and then American companies modernize and improve. He found the blame to lie with top management and the answers to come from bottom-up reforms as employees closest to problems were in the best position to solve them. Unfortunately, the corporate-reform industry that has gained ever-increasing influence on how American schools educate children has largely ignored the strategies they used to improve production as they tinker with school reform.
  • Business reformers came to the education table with belief in market competition and quantitative measures. Expertise from corporate boardrooms is favored over experience gleaned in classrooms. They also distrust of the education culture. It also came with arrogance, suspicion, and even hatred of organized labor. What is needed, however, is democratic collaboration, iterative improvement, and grassroots participation that is protected from bureaucratic meddling. We should value data as we understand its limits.
  • Schools have different goals and cultures than businesses. This makes them less suited to being run like businesses. Three decades of top-down, corporate-style education reforms have proven deeply unpopular and have reaped few benefits. The number of bad teachers is also overestimated by reformers, but efforts to punish low performers has lowered morale and increased turnover. Other business practices like incentive pay have also had a negative impact. The only winners have been the testing and technology industries at the expense of a narrowed curriculum. This book will reveal what has worked, which should guide the next reform effort.

1. Big Dreams, Small Schools, How Entrepreneurial Rebels Built a Movement in New York City

  • This chapter takes us through some history of New York City Schools from the 1960’s to relatively recently. It tells of how a number of schools gained success by being small and at the same time allowing teachers to pretty much run the schools. In a sense, they used Deming’s grass-roots ideas to interest students in the learning and act as role models. They shunned standardized testing and looked at other performance indicators. A sense of creative non-compliance pervaded these schools as they bent the rules and looked for cracks in the system. Classrooms were more open and curricula less fixed. There was lots of learning by doing, art, music, and field trips.
  • A new generation of educational leaders arrived who had no experience teaching. Rather than learn Deming’s principles like industry, they instituted top-down reforms. Even though they saw the success of small schools, they missed the rest of the factors that lead to success. This also included those involved with funding like the Gates Foundation. Unfortunately, the De Blasio administration has increased bureaucracy and shunned the flat organization models of successful schools.

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