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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
September 1, 1994
Vol. 52
No. 1

We Cannot Ignore the Alternatives

Like it or not, the ultimate adoption of some of these alternatives seems inevitable.

All the rhetoric our colleagues can muster against alternative education, privatization, the advance of capitalism into our classrooms, vouchers, and so on, seems to have little effect on the rising tide of unrest among the American public. Clearly, the public is not satisfied with the status quo.
The question is not one of right or wrong; it's a question of when. Like it or not, the ultimate adoption of some of these alternatives appears inevitable. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this movement is that no one alternative will become the widespread “solution.” Schools in the United States will not become victims of any single alternative to traditional structures; instead we will wind up with levels of alternatives, ranging from our most traditional schools today to avant-garde institutions on the fringes of society. Education professionals at all levels should be informed of the alternatives being discussed, and prepared to respond proactively when one of these issues arises in their community.

What Do Alternatives Mean for Educators?

Different alternatives will have a varying impact on teachers and administrators, mostly concerning issues of administration and governance. One district may choose contract schools (a more radical idea) and notice little change in the day-to-day operation of the schools, while another district may choose site-based management (less radical, relatively speaking) and create chaos. Again, familiarity with these alternatives and a proactive approach may be our best bet in dealing with these unpredictable circumstances. Here are seven ways teachers and administrators can prepare to meet the challenges of these alternatives.
Adapt. First, we must learn about and adapt to these new concepts of management and governance. While they may not make significant changes in the classroom, they may have significant impact on the management of the building, district, and curriculum. Being prepared to adapt to—not fight—these changes may be most beneficial for us and our students.
Expect increased accountability. Almost all these alternatives are going to increase the responsibilities of the classroom teacher. As tired as we are of the word, we will have to become more accountable to our customers not only for student outcomes, but for school management as well. The old excuse “Don't hold me accountable if you don't give me control” is fading because schools are being given more and more opportunities to take control from state and district governments. The behest for accountability will come from the local community, not from a federal or state agency, or even from the district. Local constituencies, however, may choose to use models from a federal or state agency to measure the effectiveness of the teachers and programs in their schools. Tennessee, for example, has adopted a radically new accountability system for teachers: value-added assessment. This program attempts to measure the “value” a teacher adds to students over the period of the year, using sophisticated statistical techniques with norm-referenced testing.
In many cases, accountability may simply mean paying more attention to the marketing of what already goes on in your school. Responsibility on the part of each teacher will include not only responding to local demands concerning curriculum and instructional strategies, but also doing the marketing and data management necessary to prove that value is being added. To that, add responsibilities for administrative and governance decisions, and you can see that a teacher's daily schedule is going to have to change (there are only 168 hours in a week!).
Create teams. “Team” is a concept that is here to stay. Corporations, businesses, and other government entities are adopting the team concept quickly, and schools must do the same to remain competitive. At Palmdale Elementary in Phoenix, three teams manage practically everything, replacing the position of principal. When I asked Laverne White, who last year was called the “principal” at Palmdale, what she was called this year, she replied, “I'm now referred to as the Senior Educational Leader.” Palmdale has been influenced significantly by the Intel Corporation, itself a virtually “team-managed” company.
Plan for site control. Teachers will be assuming more and more responsibility, not just for their individual classrooms, but for the administration of the school as well. Parents and other community members are playing a greater role in school management and governance. The site council at Bluewater Elementary in Niceville, Florida, recently determined that its school brought in significantly more money for the district than it received, so the council members decided to ask why. While the district office was cooperative and helpful, some district offices may be wary of schools that challenge their control. As Robert McEachern, the principal of Bluewater told me, “We must begin looking at every expense our school incurs. The district, like any good business, should provide us with a cost of its services, then we must compare that to costs from private providers to get the most for the taxpayers' dollars.”
Maintain customer orientation. With management at the local level, responsiveness to customer demands must be quick and efficient. While the concepts of Total Quality Management are considered a curse by many educators, the idea of maintaining a customer-oriented operation can be a significant key to success. Responding to customer wishes does not mean lowering standards! Just as marketing strategies convince consumers they need certain products, educators must sell their idea of quality education to their constituents.
Develop uniqueness. A critical issue for a successful school is the development and marketing of a unique identity. For years we have complained that our schools are based on the industrial model, yet we educators maintain the model we say we despise. Creating a sense of individuality is what makes magnet schools so popular. Successful magnet schools have developed a sense of self and a sense of community. School personnel are proud of their endeavors, and their enthusiasm is catching.
Be vision-driven. Many of us have our mission statements proudly displayed on bulletin boards and in newsletters. In the most successful schools, everyone knows the school's mission statement by heart and lives it in action. Developing a clear vision of where the school is going and how you plan to get there is critical to success, no matter what form the governance or management may take.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Can we ignore this rising interest in alternatives among our communities? No. At least the prolix attempts being made now appear to be futile. While being forced by the community to create an alternative educational system may seem frightening, it may also be our greatest opportunity. Throughout the United States, we, as communities and educators, are being given carte blanche to redesign education and make our schools what we, as professional educators, know they should be! It's time we stop fighting this movement and begin framing our responses so that we can maintain quality instruction for American children, no matter what we call it.

David S. Hurst has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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