Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Schools brief

Harry points us to this article in yesterday's New York Times, "Pressed by Charters, Public Schools Try Marketing," which discusses how to be competitive with charter schools for student enrollment, public schools in Harlem are taking up marketing. The only thing about "marketing imagination" is that unimaginative people think marketing is just about selling. It's also about ensuring that you have great products to sell in the first place.

With regard to social and/or "nonprofit" or government marketing, these past blog entries might be of interest:

- (Ir)rational planning
-- Social Marketing the Arlington (and Tower Hamlets and Baltimore) way
-- Disruptive innovation (once again) and Bods/Cuerpos

Readers know that lately I have taken up the idea that "culture" is in fact constructed. It is a system and structure and set of processes. But what we frequently describe as culture is described that way out of an inability to explain and analyze what is going on, because the system functions so much different from our own experience.

I noticed at the newsstand last night that Newsweek has a cover story about the most important thing to do to fix American education is "fire bad teachers." ("Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers")

Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers
Now, I agree that bad teachers need to go, but I do think that a lot of bad teaching is also "constructed" just as is good teaching. In fact you can apply my thinking about the motivation-hygiene theories of Frederick Hertzberg to good versus bad systems, structures, and processes.

This is from an entry from 2005:

.... Again, I would reiterate that building community capacity (social environment) and the physical environment must be addressed simultaneously. Perhaps one of the difficulties in studying the impact of the broken windows theory has something to do with a point made by Frederick Herzberg in his "motivation-hygiene theory" of organization behavior and development -- he says that you need to have structure (hygiene theory) to function. If you have it you don't necessarily function "better" but if you don't have it, there is "dissatisfaction" and great dysfunction.

The subhead of the Newsweek article justifies firing bad teachers because "In no other profession are workers so insulated from accountability."

So from the standpoint of (not) understanding systems here are the issues:

1. the difficulties of the requirements of the profession (if you have ever given a presentation to a class of children, you begin to have an understanding of how tough keeping the attention of children is--imagine doing so day-in and day-out for 180 days/year)

2. the failures of most school systems to adequate create and maintain professional development and support systems at 4 levels:

- for principals and school and instructional leadership
- for teachers in the classrooms
- for students
- for families

3. the failure of key community actors (including unions which focus not on professionalization as much as they do on "economism" or maximizing the benefits for workers) to focus on maximizing the quality of educational outcomes, and instead focus on maximizing job and contract opportunities that derive from the school system

Marion Orr's Black Social Capital: The Politics of School Reform in Baltimore, 1986-1998 discusses this issue.

I finally bought that book to own and read fully, along with Howard Gillette's Between Justice and Beauty: Race, Planning, and the Failure of Urban Policy in Washington, D.C., in response to the latest debacles in the city over Marion Barry, and his maximization of the use of personal service employment contracts and Council earmarks, the latter of which are abused by other Councilmembers, but not to the same degree.

Anyway, the Newsweek article states:

Yet in recent years researchers have discovered something that may seem obvious, but for many reasons was overlooked or denied. What really makes a difference, what matters more than the class size or the textbook, the teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum, is the quality of the teacher. Much of the ability to teach is innate—an ability to inspire young minds as well as control unruly classrooms that some people instinctively possess (and some people definitely do not). Teaching can be taught, to some degree, but not the way many graduate schools of education do it, with a lot of insipid or marginally relevant theorizing and pedagogy. In any case the research shows that within about five years, you can generally tell who is a good teacher and who is not.

While this is true, that it takes five years probably to tell who is a good teacher and who isn't, imagine what could happen if the systems were in place to focus on training, developing, strengthening, and extending those factors which lead to successful outcomes?

Getting rid of teachers who are "bad" after five years will definitely have some marginal positive outcome on school and educational quality. But so much more can be accomplished by focusing on the overall system in place, rather than blaming everything on failed "cogs."

This is the same problem in terms of understanding crime and problem oriented policing. The reason that research didn't find a positive correlation between crime reduction and policing was because of how police officers were being deployed--in scout cars, responding to calls. The issue wasn't lack of personnel, the issue was in how the personnel were deployed and utilized. AND THE RESEARCHERS NEVER STOOD BACK AND CONSIDERED THAT QUESTION, OF WHETHER OR NOT HOW POLICE OFFICERS WERE BEING DEPLOYED WAS THE BEST WAY TO ADDRESS CRIME.

William Bratton, as police commissioner in New York City, turned the question around.

By changing the management and operational structure of the police department, starting off by analyzing crime data at the neighborhood level (rather than the entire jurisdiction), and then deploying officers in response to specific needs and trends, getting them out of scout cars, and taking what we might call "gateway" crimes seriously (having guns, jumping subway turnstiles, etc.) which ultimately interdicted many criminals, crime has been significantly reduced, especially in New York City, where the "new" techniques were perfected.

The same kind of reworking the system and structure of K-12 education needs to occur in order to have the same kinds of positive changes that have been experienced in other systems, like public safety in New York City.

Instead, we are still focused on band-aids, with various stock approaches--decertifying unions, creating charter schools, blaming teachers, vouchers--being profferred by various interests, without a deep and fundamental rethinking of the entire process.

I guess that doesn't make for a good cover story.

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