Education Opinion

Yeah, That’s What We Need--a Facebook Quiz on Policy Styles

By Nancy Flanagan — February 20, 2010 2 min read
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Reading the end-of-week blogs this Saturday morning, it’s clear that the educator crowd is all over the new MetLife report--the one that says overwhelming numbers of teachers and principals believe that more collaboration, more professional growth, and a steady stream of resources will lead us to the Promised Land.

Meanwhile, down in Kentucky, Erik Hanushek is once again leading the charge toward no-excuses policy-making--what Robert Pondiscio calls his “off with their heads” model. Forget class size, professional learning, resource levels. Teachers must efficiently produce test score gains. Or be canned.

We’ve recently been notified that individual learning styles don’t exist--research and Jay Mathews tell us so. But--I’m wondering if a scientifically based investigation might be funded, to determine whether these two diametrically opposed viewpoints on how to solve the “good teacher in every classroom” problem spring from different, inherent and immutable... policy styles.

Students of government know that there are only a handful of forms policy generally takes:

• Mandates (Do it, or else)
• Incentives (Do it, and there’s something in it for you)
• Capacity Building (We could do it better, if only...)
• Exhortation (Do it, because you should)
• Systemic shifts (We’ve been doing it all wrong)

Hey! Maybe we could create a Facebook quiz--a predominance of Bs and you’re an incentivist! Mostly Cs? Congratulations--you’re a capacity builder! If we had a policy styles sorting mechanism, we’d know how to get the right folks together to make schools better, at last.

When it comes to policy, economists like Hanushek are drawn to carrots and sticks. If we’d just stop mooning over the hopey, changey stuff and analyze the numbers, they think, we could move forward with confidence, ticking problems off our prioritized lists.

Educators often run their classrooms using heavy-duty mandates and incentives (think: assignments, grades, rewards for good behavior). When it comes to big picture policy issues, however, they shift to resource increases, skill-building and pressure to do the right thing for more children, while keeping the basic system intact.

Lately, there’s been greater interest in systemic shifts--privatization, vouchers, virtual schools, change in school governance models, abandoning the whole idea of schools as bricks and mortar, let alone community centers. What would happen if we stood back and let commercial and technological interests call the shots? Does the government have a justified, prevailing interest in education or should we scrap the entire system?

A “Policy Styles” quiz might turn out to be very useful...

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.