REFLECTIONS ON A SYSTEM IN TRANSITION
"Captains of Change" Lecture Series
December 4, 1989
Dr. Mary Anne Raywid
Visiting Professor, University of Hawaii
Consultant, League of Women Voters of Hawaii
It seems hard to believe that this occasion has arrived and that my year in Hawaii is drawing to a close. I shall be taking many vivid memories with me: the colorful opening of the Legislature, all-day concerts under those magnificent trees, your school campuses with the multiple buildings (so ideal for housing schools-within-schools). As I look back, there have been precious few days on the beach -- and I guess it will be hard to explain to my friends at home how possible it can get here to ignore the ocean. But instead, there have been visits to schools on this and neighbor islands, countless conversations with school people and parents, and much rewarding interaction with a number of civic and community organizations and agencies.
I begin, therefore, with a very heartfelt mahalo. I came to Hawaii with the hope that I might be of help and service to you. I will be leaving with the conviction that I have been enormously enriched by the experience -- from being welcomed into your community, and from your sharing. In return, I want to share with you tonight some thoughts on what I have seen here and some ideas on possibilities you may want to explore. I shall be ambivalent in voicing some of these things, because I have learned enough about the culture of Hawaii to understand and to appreciate your reticence in saying hard things. Nevertheless, it is my gift to you to share the only thing a scholar has to give: an honest rendering of the understandings and conclusions to which her observations lead. I hope you will find them useful, even if you do not agree with all of them. But developments in the mainland efforts to reform schools bear sufficient similarity to events here that you should not have to repeat mainland failures. It is my hope to help you avoid them.
In what I have to say, I shall be using a set of distinctions I developed several months ago in discussing the failure of school reform efforts here and elsewhere. Thus, I will begin by sketching the three types of reform described there, so that they can make sense to you. The three are identified in relation to their potential for improving the quality and effectiveness of instruction.
The first, I call "pseudo reform," which is often neither intended nor well calculated to improve instructional quality. The 2.0 rule and school building repairs are examples. Some pseudo reforms are necessary and desirable, but they do not affect the quality of instruction. The second type, "incremental reform," is the category most reform proposals fall into. It seeks to improve one segment of study (e.g., writing or algebra) for one group of students (e.g., second graders or slow learners or the college-bound). It is incremental reform that has proven so frustrating all over the country -- so difficult to install and carry out in any way that matters, because adjusting and adapting it to the existing system often nullifies its advantages . Reform by "restructuring" is the third type, and it insists on the need for both fundamental and pervasive changes in education, including changes in the way schools are governed. A large number of mainland reform efforts now represent restructuring.
In summarizing the case for school restructuring, I want to cite two of the leaders who are urging it. Ted Sizer is the first. He has done much to help others see how the fundamental organization of schools is simply counterproductive -- how the fragmented curriculum, the lockstep movement of squads of youngsters, the time-dominated instructional arrangements combine to destroy the motivation to learn in all but a small percentage of our children.1 Several months ago, Sizer expressed the following concern over reform efforts:2
I don't think we've gotten to the heart of the problem yet. The problem is the existing system. And until we face up to that fact -- that the existing system has to change -- we're not going to get the kinds of changes that everybody wants.
Like Sizer, the second leader I want to quote sees both instructional and governance redesign as imperative. He is Albert Shanker, the President of the American Federation of Teachers. Shanker made these remarks to a teacher group, but he has more than once said as much to administrators as well:3
Just as the auto industry and the steel industry had to change, the school industry has to change... It is not a matter of holding on to what you have or changing. You can't hold on to what you have because the public won't tolerate it.
If teachers resist change ... schools will be 'turned over to dictators or to parents,' as in Chicago. 'Or you will get a ... market system where parents can send kids to private school at public expense.'
I think Sizer and Shanker are right. As yet another observer put it, "'The biggest risk in education today is not taking one.'"4 Public schools must restructure themselves, or one of two consequences will follow: either others will come in and, riding roughshod, do it for them; or else public education will not endure into the 21st century. If you think that could not happen here, let me remind you of the percentage of Hawaii residents who have already given up on public schooling and are sending their children to private schools. In recognition of the critical state of education in particular local schools, substantial supplementary funds have been appropriated to help make them work better. I suspect that the 'special needs' appropriation is going to prove to be a test. And short of radical changes in the instruction these schools offer, and the environments they represent, achievement levels are not going to change much. From there, it is not a very long step to concluding that the situation is hopeless. This would be tragic, because the task is not impossible. Debbie Meier and Sy Fliegel brought marvelous accomplishment to the-schools of East Harlem under equally challenging circumstances. But you can't do that without extensive change -- structural change. It is, as Sizer puts it, the system that must change.
Now there are always people who bristle when other people talk about the need for vast changes in schools. Administrators tend to respond, as Sy Fliegel suggested, that they are already doing just what is being proposed -or else, that they've already tried it and it didn't work. Then there are always at least one or two graduates who support the complacency side of such discussions by interjecting that as students they received an excellent education. And it's even possible to find several among any system's best teachers who maintain that they have encountered little difficulty in arriving at their successes. What are we to make of this kind of testimony, which can certainly be found here?
If all we require to defend and maintain the status quo is proof that it can work for some, then the job has been done and we need say no more. If, on the other hand, we want schools where large numbers of teachers can function effectively, and where impressive proportions of youngsters are successful, then we must change the way in which schools conduct their business. It is no trick to run a school in which the ablest triumph. They can often do so against virtually any odds. The challenge is putting together schools in which all or most succeed. What we need, in the words of a bestselling study on corporate excellence, is schools that can elicit extraordinary performance from ordinary people -- average teachers and run-of-the-mill students.5 This is exactly the commitment Hawaii's schools must make if they are to work for any but the finest teachers and the ablest students.
Just how much change is needed in most schools in order to bring this about? I am convinced, with Sizer and Shanker, that what needs doing is a matter of restructuring. Even where there are indications of real success, the fundamental arrangements recommend considerable change. As Debbie Meier has put it, "The longer we delay the needed structural first steps, the longer it will take us to begin making use of the ... knowledge we already have on how to help all children learn."6
I want to emphasize that the challenge I am talking about is not a matter of individuals and personalities, but of the system. Bureaucratic systems, work in highly predictable ways, and individuals entering such systems rather quickly take on their characteristics, rather than vice versa. Thus, looking for the rascals to throw out, as reform legislation in some states now encourages governors to do, is no answer. Seven states now have so-called 'academic bankruptcy' laws. These provide for direct takeovers of failing schools and for the replacement of school officials. I suspect this is usually barking up the wrong tree. As I see it, the problems more typically lie within the system than within the individuals who are staffing it.
Is the solution, then, the one adopted for Chicago -- revising school governance by simply taking the power away from educators and dividing it up among non-professionals? (Chicago has just embarked on a new system of school governance whereby each school is run by its own eleven-member council, eight of whom are not educators.) I can't believe that this is much of an advance either. Education problems are far too demanding to think that novices will do better at them than the people trained to do so. But if this be so, what hope can there be for changing the system? I want to offer some speculations about that later, but first, some reflections on the current scene.
The Struggles of Transition
There are probably some who would question the title of this address, asking whether public education in Hawaii really is a system in transition. Critics are citing the new school/community-based management policy and guidelines as evidence to the contrary. Whether or not that is appropriate, there are fairly clear signs of the sort of struggles associated with transitions.
A system in transition is almost always a system marked by struggles. These are the signs that portend transition. They intensify and erupt and their resolution brings change. One major struggle has just ended here, over whether the school reform bill passed by the Legislature in April -School/Community-Based Management (SCBM) -- was going to remain largely just a switch in management techniques, or whether it was to be a restructuring that would eventually transfer authority from one position within the system to others. I have watched the same struggle evolve elsewhere, and those trying to bring the changes usually lose (which is one reason why I have been less than enthusiastic about the prospect of school-based management). Bur the policy statement which finally emerged from that eight-month long process is more promising than some I have seen. Even the skeptic must concede that it offers opportunities previously unavailable in Hawaii. At the very least, it assures parents and teachers the right to elect their own representatives to participate in official discussions of school policy. In a system where access has been strictly governed and controlled, this is no small gain -- even though whether it is gain enough remains to be seen.
The struggle over whether SCBM was to bring pseudo reform or restructuring also involved at least two other more fundamental struggles that suggest transition: one is the struggle of whether it is the public or the professionals who will write school policy. This, too, is a struggle that has been occurring elsewhere, throughout our decade-long concern with school reform. As one observer put it, public schools have seen a "reassertion of 'civilian control' over the system."7 Previously, in Hawaii as elsewhere, the Board of Education has apparently functioned primarily as an arm of the Department, serving more often as the representative of the school system to the public than as the public's representative in the making of school policy. The Board has been dominated by the superintendent.
Your struggle over school-based management has in part been a struggle over who would make school policy. It has reflected an attempt to shift this power from the professionals who have held it to the elected policymakers. The situation of the last several weeks, in which the superintendent waged an open struggle against the Board, in Board committee sessions, would be viewed extraordinary on the mainland. I suspect that at the end of the "contentious," "often tumultuous" "turf wars," as the papers have characterized the debates,8 both sides can feel they have won and lost, with neither able to claim total victory. It remains to be seen whether the Board's restructuring intent can survive the implementation guidelines on which the Department seems largely to have prevailed. It is likely to become a struggle as to whether policy ends can prevail over implementation means. And here as elsewhere, I'm afraid the struggle between "the civilians" and the professionals will be the struggle of change versus no-change.
But that extraordinary struggle openly pitting the Board against the Department over SCBM has been complicated by yet another one in recent months. This one has raised the issue of which civilians will prevail. The Governor's office marched into the education arena with fanfare in July, with the A+ program. Although it began as a day care program, not primarily an educational one, it became clear that it was to be conducted daily in 170 schools -- on 74% of Hawaii's school campuses -- and that it would involve large numbers of school personnel. (I have been told in fact that it early became the personal headache of 170 vice principals.)
A+ has had a real part in the struggle over SCBM. It captured and shifted headlines and public attention. In so doing, it can be argued, it effectively derailed SCBM and the effort to make restructuring operative. But its education impacts do not end there. The program is to be financed now with federal funds earmarked for education, and it will contend with educational programs for future funding. It is, in fact, now being openly acknowledged as an educational program -- perhaps one eventually involving all students in a three-hour extension of the school day.9 Thus, a great deal of school policy of long-term duration, of substantial programmatic import, and of rapidly growing financial magnitude appears to have been written already -- without the Board of Education and without the Legislature either, to members' understandable chagrin.
The enormous and instant public appeal left A+ hard to challenge -tantamount to "'policy ... by press release, "as one legislator put it.10 He is right. And in procedural terms, the proposal pre-empted both BOE policymaking functions and the Legislature's prerogatives in deciding fiscal policy. As one principal put it, it made "many of us feel like pawns in somebody else's future in politics."11
Thus, the struggles surrounding SCBM have been much broader and deeper than the debates over its specific provisions. They have included public vs. professionals, or Board vs. Department; Board vs. the Governor's office; and now the Governor vs. the Legislature. They are suggestive of transition.
There are also several other, more pervasive struggles going on in Hawaii that strongly influence schools and their improvement. They provide the backdrop against which any school transition must occur. The first of these is the struggle between privilege and equity. As the newspapers have recently proclaimed, privilege is a fact of life here, all the way from job opportunities to access to public golf courses.12 It is particularly evident in public school hiring patterns, and a source of a great deal of resentment.
In a highly ethnically-conscious society of three dominant population groups of approximately equal number, one group provides 67% of the officialdom that runs the schools, and an equal percentage of elementary school teachers.13 Despite annual protests by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the figures do not change very much. And stories like this one abound: an opening is announced in the papers and an individual calling to request an interview is openly asked, "What is your ethnic background?" Those who state the right answer are scheduled for the interview. Those who state any other are not.14Given the present pace of this particular transition, the struggle seems likely to intensify. That is probably fortunate, because the favoritism is reflected within schools, as well as in the opportunities for getting into them. I have been told numerous stories here of ethnic discrimination displayed by teachers toward other teachers -and unforgivably, it seems to me, of discrimination addressed to youngsters as well. Formal status differentiations among the staff can also be a source of considerable inequity -- not only among teachers but also from one classroom to another. For instance, I am told that supplies are often distributed to teachers according to their status and seniority -- to the extent that a child unfortunate enough to be assigned to a new teacher may be without books, supplies, maps, and Xerox paper -- the Xerox paper, that is, which could help offset the lack of other materials.
A related struggle I have observed is that between the claims of the lovely, generous Aloha spirit on the one hand, and separatist and exclusionary tendencies on the other. On the one hand, there stands Hawaii's marvelous warmth and charm, and I have seen a great deal of commitment to living the way of Aloha. In fact, this has much to do with my personal love affair with Hawaii. But on the other hand, I have also heard it said with sadness that "Aloha is only for tourists," and that Hawaii's celebrated multicultural pluralism may actually be more akin to Balkanization -- the separate, semi-hostile existence of ethnic groups living parallel lives. Which of these it shall be -- pluralism or separatism- is one of the struggles now under way.
A final, more formal struggle that extends well beyond school issues but is prominently reflected within them is the interest group basis of politics in Hawaii. Given what is virtually a, one-party system, it is primarily the interest groups that articulate the vying positions on public issues, and particularly perhaps on schools. Their participation in school affairs is far more explicit and ubiquitous than in many mainland discussions. The Task Force arrangement seems to be the preferred mechanism for reaching a large number of Hawaii's education decisions. It is frequently marked by the quite open designation of invited members as representatives of particular groups. And individuals who don't have groups to represent are sometimes excluded on these grounds. In : some formal listings of members, the group is listed first, with the individual's name after it.
Political theorists have fretted over an interest-group basis of politics, warning that it can be divisive, splitting us into small factions and intensifying our differences. Then, too, there is the question of whether the broad public interest -- the general welfare -- can really be served this way, since an interest-group arena tends to favor far narrower and more explicit interests. There are, for example, teacher and principal and superintendent and Chamber of Commerce and Business Round Table representatives, but relatively few for the public at large. There is reason to ask whether the public interest is identical with the additive interests of the groups with enough at stake to have been invited to participate in the deliberations.
There is another major concern, too, with the interest group approach to arriving at decisions. It permits each group at the table to function as a veto group on any proposal -- virtually inviting them to act, as one interpreter put it, as "abominable no-men."15 An effective veto of this sort is a virtual guarantee, of course, for preserving the status quo. Thus, say some, to the extent that significant change is needed, the interest-group approach to politics is self-defeating.
I have seen no direct movement here, away from the interest group approach to doing public business. But there is certainly strong public resentment against the power some interest groups command over education. I think Albert Shanker's warning is going to prove correct in Hawaii as it is already proving on the mainland: The school industry must change. We educators can't hold on to what we have because the public simply is not going to tolerate it., Shanker can surely never be accused of being antiunion. But he correctly perceives, I think, that it is precisely the battles we have won that may now cost educators the war.
What Makes Sense for Hawaii Now?
I want to comment finally on what might best serve the interests of school improvement in Hawaii, given present struggles and the transitions they portend. Let me begin this way: In recent weeks, the first two speakers in this series, Debbie Meier and Sy Fliegel, described for you from the different perspectives of the classroom teacher, the principal, and the superintendent's office what has become one of the most celebrated school districts in the country. Would it work in Hawaii? I think a great deal of it would work superbly here -- providing your adaptation of it took care to preserve the factors yielding its success. Prospective success or failure of an educational proposal lies in the details -- or in local terms, not so much with the bill, or the policy statement, as with the implementation guidelines.
The factors that make the District 4 schools work have a great deal to do with teacher and family choice, and with teacher enablement -- with having groups of teachers design the programs they will operate, with freeing and supporting them in the offering of truly distinctive programs, with permitting them to depart from standard instructional practice, and with encouraging them to adopt novel administrative and organizational arrangements. As Debbie and Sy would be the first to tell you, without these factors, their programs could not have succeeded. Without them, there is considerable risk of disappointment in installing a choice program -- or a school-based management (SBM) program either, for that matter. Success is always contingent upon the presence of multiple factors.
To put it differently, it is possible to design virtually any reform so as to avoid change altogether. You can install SBM or almost any other proposal as pseudo reform, as incremental reform, or as restructuring. Designs preventing any transfer of authority are pseudo reform. SBM plans that do no more than create a new set of committees or councils are incremental reforms which will affect relatively small numbers in a school. Only restructuring proposals that affect everybody have much hope for making a substantial long-term difference. In the case of SBM that would require a transfer of authority and a set of school governance arrangements that manage to directly involve everybody within the school.
It is also possible to offer the only other restructuring strategy we've got -- choice -- in such ways as to preclude much danger of real impact on the system. Indeed, Hawaii already has two such choice arrangements, district exceptions and learning centers. District exceptions may be an accommodation to parent need and convenience (the reason 62% of the choosers give for their choices, according to the DOE), but it is surely not a choice arrangement calculated to affect educational quality. Thus, it has the earmarks of pseudo reform.
Hawaii also offers some family choice opportunities through its 29 learning centers. According to recent reports, they provide opportunities for youngsters meeting their admissions requirements -- opportunities to pursue extra electives and after-school activities in designated areas of study. But they are not designed to affect and permeate the full educational programs of students, nor to revitalize schools. Thus, a good learning center represents an incremental reform for those fortunate enough to be admitted. But this particular version of choice has little to do with restructuring. Thus I hope you will not settle for it. What is important is the restructuring that would transform all classrooms and permeate the entire educational program of all students, not just some -- and for al I day long, not just for a small part of the day. Again, as Sizer puts it, "it is the system that is the problem." Add-on's can't fix it.
But how does one get to restructuring? The first thing needed here or elsewhere in undertaking substantial school change is an adequate catalyst -a mechanism or design that will get you from here to there, producing the needed changes. It remains to be seen whether the SCBM plan just adopted can deliver. If I were you, I wouldn't count on it. And that is no indictment of the plan: even if all of us were fully confident of it, educational change has proved too risky to invest all our hopes in just one plan. If you find school reform urgent, why entrust it to a single plan? There is nothing to lose and possibly much to gain from offering schools the opportunity to select among several restructuring strategies. It strikes me as both appropriate and desirable for the public to insist that schools embark oil restructuring. It might be far more productive to offer them the opportunity to select among strategies for doing so than to force one unproven mode upon them. Thus, .l hope Hawaii will adopt legislation enabling schools to select between the SCBM route, and the diversfied options or choice route, possibly with even a third option available to those hesitant to undertake their own restructuring. They might, for example, be offered the opportunity to request a custom designed reform plan from the DOE, and assisted in its implementation. Such options might produce more effective transformations, occurring in more schools, and benefiting more youngsters more quickly. And you just might find out what is the most effective catalyst to school restructuring in Hawaii.
A second thing I believe much needed here is some very explicit attention to the question of educational goals and priorities. It is all very well to declare ourselves in favor of 'excellence,' but as Senator Bert Kobayashi, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has asked, "Just what is it that we want to be second to none in?" Is the most urgent priority lowering dropout rates? Raising the performance levels of at risk students? Improving ,the test scores of college admissions candidates? Helping all students cultivate the ability to perform higher level intellectual processes? Enabling all to contribute to the economy? Bringing all island youngsters to share in the Aloha spirit? Providing all with understanding and appreciation for the cultures of Pacific Rim peoples?
Such a list of possibilities suggests something of the inescapable competition among worthwhile purposes. We might well say that we want to do all of these things. But which we find most important must govern whether SCBM should be derailed in the interests of after school programs - or whether the school day should be extended for all youngsters -- or how a very finite set of resources is to be allocated. Without such a guide, educational attention and direction may remain at the whim of any official with a riveting idea and an election to anticipate -- and there can be no guidance but the sponsor's status and power as to which items have what claim on such resources as time and energy as well as money.
Finally, and not unrelated to my first two suggestions, I believe that the interests of real school improvement require that everybody must simply back off. That includes the Board, the Department, the Legislature, and the Governor. Recall that the widespread agreement prompting the SCBM proposal here was that school control must be decentralized, with more decisions made at the individual school level. To the extent that external agencies interfere and intrude, decisions simply cannot be made there. And it must be recognized that intrusions can and do now emanate fairly frequently from four offices -- the DOE, the Board, the Legislature, the Governor. They may take the form of regulations, mandates, prohibitions, testing programs, and new time-consuming proposals for schools to carry out. If the early years of the Excellence Movement taught any lesson, it is that there is no way you can impose excellence on a group of people from outside or above. You cannot order it, you cannot require it, and you cannot box people in so as to extract it from them irrespective of their willingness to work for it. What is more, efforts to mandate these things -- or to make
sure that there are no shirkers -- will probably only make things worse. Thus, the only thing that can be done is to concentrate on establishing the conditions that inspire and enable the people within schools to will excellence for themselves. Only under these conditions are they likely to work for and be able to win it. This means that the only kind of externally generated policies likely to help matters are enabling policies and incentives. If it is positive results that interest you, the carrot is a lot more effective than the stick.
The "back off" suggestion might be applied to advantage in another sense, too. Policy analysts have located the advantages of private over public schools to lie precisely in the contrast in the number of external bosses to be obeyed
The number of official sources that can and do generate public school policy in Hawaii not only impede effective school operation, but make accountability impossible. You cannot reasonably hold a Board of Education responsible for policies other officials made for it -- which leaves the public in a poor position to know whom to blame and whom to replace when school conditions are not to their liking. I suspect that as the restructuring transition evolves here, you will move either toward leaving school policymaking to the Board of Education or toward replacing the Board in some way.
These are my suggestions. I have tried to show the rationale which gives rise to them -- the urgent need for restructuring public schools both here and elsewhere. And I have tried to identify the signs of transition -- the struggles that both reflect and produce change. I want to thank you for hearing my message, as well as those of the first two speakers in this series. And I want to thank all of you whom I have met, and with whom I have worked and sometimes played. Thank you for your kindness and your welcome. I have loved your beautiful land, and its peoples, and I am going to find it hard to leave. You will remain with me. Aloha nui loa.
- This phrase is indebted to Charles M. Reigeluth in "The Search for Meaningful Reform: A Third-Wave Educational System," The Redesign of Education, San Francisco: Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, December, 1988, p. 139.
- Quoted by David Hill in "Fixing the System from the Top Down," Teacher Magazine, September/October, 1989, p. 53.
- Quoted by Joanne Jacobs in "Teachers: Reward the Best; Fire the Worst," Honolulu Star-Bulletin & Advertiser, October 29, 1989, p. B-1.
- The Chairman of Nabisco, as quoted in "Hobbles on Reform," a Honolulu Advertiser editorial, November 11, 1989, p. A-6.
- Thomas Peters and Robert H. Waterman, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies. New York: Harper & Row, 1982.
- Deborah Meier, "Structural Change Is Prerequisite for Real Educational Reform," The New York Teacher, February 6,1989.
- Chester E. Finn, "The Choice Backlash," National Review, November 10, 1989, p. 32.
- The terms appear in Honolulu Advertiser stories on the development of the SCBM policy. See Tom Brislin, "Union Eyes Schools Wrangling," November 16,1989; "School Management Guidelines In New Form Pass Committee," November 30, 1989; and "Final Guidelines Approved for New School Approach," December 1, 1989.
- According to Superintendent Toguchi as cited by William Kresnak and Thomas Brislin, "A+ Cost Rising, Cayetano Says," Honolulu Advertiser, November 30,1989, p. A-1.
- Michael Liu, as quoted by Richard Borreca in "Legislators Back Charge That A+ Plan Is Illegal," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 16,1989, p. A-3.
- Haroldeen Wakida, as quoted by Tom Brislin and David Waite in "Cayetano 'Stoked' by 'A+; But Some Principals Aren't," Honolulu Star-Bulletin & Advertiser, October 22,1989, p. A-3.
- See Richard Borreca, "Hawaii Democrats Earn Scorn," Honolulu StarBulletin, December 1,1989, p. A-3.
- According to a DOE table titled "Summary of Certificated and Classified Workforce by EEO Occupational Group, Sex, and Ethnicity: Permanent Position. April, 1987."
- This story is told often, and in various forms. One version appears as testimony given the Board of Education's Ad Hoc Committee on Affirmative Action Plan in 1986. See Exhibit D, Teacher Applicant Testimonies, October 17, 1986, pages 27-28, 41-42, and passim.
- C. Northcote Parkinson, as quoted by Peter Brimelow, in "Parkinson Worth More Than All Those Slick 'Bibles,'" Business Review Weekly, August II, 1989, p. 83.
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League of Women Voters of Hawaii
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