I've been thinking a lot about the state of American Education. I have a lot to say about it. It really needs to be reformed, but not the way our President, his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, or our legislators think it needs to be reformed. I will go into greater detail in a later post. For now, what follows is one, minuscule but important piece of how education needs to be reformed.
I came to these ideas when I read the November 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review and first learned about Peter Drucker. Back in the 1950s, Peter Drucker coined the term, "knowledge worker." As I read about Drucker and did some extra investigation about knowledge workers, I realized that teachers are knowledge workers and that teachers manage knowledge workers -- students. Really, this shouldn't have been a revelation. But what made it so shocking to me is that I am not managed the way Drucker thought knowledge workers should be managed. Nor am I encouraged to manage my students as knowledge workers.
Knowledge work can ultimately be judged on whether or not three things occur:
1) When something successful that never existed previously, is now up and running;
2) When something successful that existed previously has been improved or expanded; or
3) When something unsuccessful that existed previously has been stopped.
The productivity for achieving one of these things can be judged based on the speed with which it is accomplished, and the cost required to finish the job.
The following lists illustrate the difference between manual work and knowledge work.
Frederick Taylor on Manual Work
Define the task
Command and Control
Focus on quantity
Measure performance to a strict standard
Minimize cost of workers for a task
Peter Drucker on Knowledge Work
Understand the task
Focus on quality
Continuously learn and teach
Treat workers as an asset not a cost
Source: Reinvent Your Enterprise
Teachers are routinely allowed to understand the task, have autonomy, and are encouraged to innovate continuously. However, we manage 150 students a day which minimizes the cost of us as workers, and emphasizes the quantity of students that we teach over the quality of teaching. We are evaluated on a checklist.
We relate to our students by defining the task for them, giving them little latitude for autonomy, encourage them to think inside the box. We evaluate them by using a rubric -- a checklist.
Here are two more relevant lists.
Manual Work Productivity
Work is visible
Work is specialized
Work is stable
Emphasizes running things
More structure with fewer decisions
Focus on the right answers
Knowledge Work Productivity
Work is invisible
Work is holistic
Work is changing
Emphasizes changing things
Less structure with more decisions
Focus on the right questions
Source: Reinvent Your Enterprise
Teachers' work is invisible, holistic, and changing. However, school boards, superintendents, and legislators tend to focus on running things, build more structures so that the classroom teacher cannot make autonomous decisions, and ask us to focus on the right answers.
Students' work is also invisible, holistic, and changing. Nevertheless, teachers must evaluate them as if what they have learned is always visible, specialized, and correct.
This post was long and was written in a lot of passive voice. However, future posts will attempt to provide concrete examples and to identify all of those currently passive actors.