Hope often triumphs over experience because change is difficult. So, we imagine that changing key officeholders, or some policy tweak, will suddenly make something happen that has been rare or unheard of in the past. The last several district superintendents looked like they were going to turn around the district’s performance, but didn’t, but the next one will. Right! We can make central planning work though it never has, within education or elsewhere; that is, produce a high-performing school system through a political/administrative process to decide what to teach, how, by whom, where, and to whom. Right!! Just a tweak here, some new information, and maybe a few personnel changes and suddenly the current governance and funding processes will produce totally different behavior; much better behavior from mostly the same people in the same circumstances. Right!!!
In The School Choice Wars (2001), I documented the futility of “More-of-the-Same-Harder”. Rick Hess (2010) documented the futility of The Same Thing Over and Over. Diane Ravitch (2000) documented, A Century of Failed School Reform. In the last approximately 30 years, we’ve assumed that clearer, higher standards, and the promise/threat of increased accountability would make our current system produce much better academic outcomes. But there has been little or no enhanced accountability, including for promising better results from policies that have repeatedly produced disappointing results; very few firings and school closures.
The latest example to cross my desk is this unsurprising, but still noteworthy, observation about teacher training programs: Despite frequent, widespread, well-documented problems, “the closures of teacher education programs are exceedingly rare; states favor warnings, second chances” for faltering programs to fix themselves; something that is rare in the public and private sectors. What is even more telling about lack of accountability than failure to close faltering programs, is that school districts still hire the graduates of such programs. In a system with the true accountability that arises from meaningful competition (genuine choice from a dynamic menu), that would not happen. Footloose parent/shoppers would shun schools that hire teachers from low quality training programs. But public school districts’ monopoly on public funding precludes any meaningful accountability/competition. Districts can/do keep spending buckets of money on failing school turnaround despite the history of very low success rates with school turnaround within an unchanged governance and finance setting that was likely instrumental in producing the “failed school” outcome. Districts can/do keep assigning children to officially failed schools; no way out unless you can muster the cash to pay tuition after paying school taxes.