Friday, August 26, 2005

Inez and the culture of innovation in education

First, before someone responds about this being overly political or an an attack on public education, take a deep breath ... it's neither. It's about how important it is to create a culture of innovation in education.

Brad Warthen, editorialist for The State, keeps a blog which I enjoy reading. We've had a conversation back and forth about a recent entry, "Inez shocker!", about her tenure as Secretary of Education in South Carolina.

Inez said she would not run for a third term, but would remain involved in "changing the culture of education in South Carolina, so people not only respect it but revere it."

To which I answered, "If Inez would focus her efforts on improving the culture inside public education so that it becomes a much more innovative system that develops creative solutions to meet the needs of children not well served today, then she would be doing a real service to the state."

Brad responded, "Mrs. Tenenbaum DID and CONTINUES to "focus her efforts on improving the culture inside public education so that it becomes a much more innovative system that develops creative solutions to meet the needs of children not well served today." That's why the public schools have improved steadily under her tenure, according to most objective measurements." Then Brad goes on, "And she's done it with grace in the face of constant partisan pettiness and outright malicious lies that have deliberately undermined public confidence in the fine job that teachers, administrators, students and parents have done in moving public education forward in South Carolina."

Sigh deeply. This unfortunately is the way this debate usually goes about how to improve public education goes. Our kids lose when little progress is made on reaching a consensus about fundamental changes necesary to improve the system of delivering education in the state.

Inez deserves credit for making the most of the existing system of delivering education. Test scores have improved in recent years as a result, and that is a very good thing. But she did very little to help create a culture of innovation inside public education, in fact she strongly resisted change along with the rest of the education establishment.

There is a wide spectrum of ways in which students think and learn. And there is a wide spectrum of circumstances from which children come. For some percentage of children, the way we deliver public education today matches up well with how they learn and the support they receive at home. Most of these children do well, and some even excel. But a very large percentage of children are not served well by the current system, and they are failing. The price we all pay for this is very high.

We need to find a way to give the best and brightest entrepreneurial teachers a way of creating now models for delivering education to students not well served today. Charter schools are a weak form of this, innovation lite. Some of the most innovative models may look very different from the way we deliver education today, and would never see the light of day if they had to take root inside or be approved by the existing system. This is not because anyone in education is bad, necessarily, if it just the way large organizations work. There is powerful momentum inside large organizations, be they companies or governments, to maintain the status quo and resist change. Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen wrote a very insightful book describing this, called The Innovator’s Dilemma. I also address this in my book, Swamp Fox Insights.

We can continue to make incremental improvements in education continuing on the path we are on. But we can’t make quantum leaps in improving education unless we create a system that allows entrepreneurial educators tp bring new ideas to underserved students. That’s going to take a strong political leader, like a Dick Riley, who can lead us to a much better place in education than we are today.


Anonymous said...

WEll, John you've done it again. You are such an expert in so many areas, why don't you run for Inez's job. You amaze so many of us with your comments. If there were not a few (very few) peices of good thought, I would write you off as a know it all. But, then that is what you are a know it all. From Boy Scouts to World leader. John get a life....

Swamp Fox said...

Sorry you're disappointed. Based on this and your prior post, it doesn't sound like I'm going to please you. I have enough scars to understand I can't please everyone. C'est la vie.

At least you care enough to read my blog. Thanks for that.

Bob said...

I disagree with you, John - Inez was not as good as you portrayed her to be! It's fairly easy to post gains in test scores when you start at the bottom of the barrel - and SC public education is STILL at the bottom of the barrel under Inez' leadership. Glad to see her go. And she's the best candidate that the Democrats can come up with for elected public office? Gawd, they're in BIG trouble in SC.

- Bob