Discovering what parents, business leaders, and teachers want in a school..

Chapter 2

Discovering what parents, business leaders, and teachers want from a school

“I firmly believe that the history and culture of any school-any organization-is largely grounded in teh combined histories and philosophies of the people who walk its hallways.” –p.19

A.B Combs Elementary school is a school like no other. It is a magnet school, which is not uncommon, however it focuses on leadership and the development of life skills in its students beyond simply academics.  The school’s core is based on and has been developed around Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly effective people.  Principal Muriel Summers absorbed Covey’s at a lecture during a critical period for her school.  At the time she attended his lecture, her school was facing a radical restructuring or its termination.  After hearing the habits, she realized that if these could be applied to children, they would grow into highly effective adults, so why not try to teach these habits as young as possible?

Before proceeding, I want to list Covey’s 7 Habits:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

In his book, “The Leader in Me,” Covey tells the story of A.B. Combs elementary school and discusses how the habits have been applied and proven effective time after time through this small rural school.  Covey discusses how all organizations are built not simply by the walls but by the histories and philosophies of those who walk its hallways.  To some in the education sector this would simply mean the teachers and other faculty and to others it would mean simply the students.  To Covey, and A.B. Combs elementary school, this includes ANYONE who walks the halls: teachers, parents, students, community members, etc.

All schools are designed to focus on academics, but if schools stop there, the students will stop there.  If schools simply teach fact after fact, how can we expect students to become responsible for themselves in the ‘real word?’  When Muriel surveyed her community as to what they wanted out of a school, she received an overwhelming response indicating that “they wanted children to grow up and be responsible, caring, compassionate human beings who respected diversity and who knew how to do the right things when faced with difficult decisions. (21)”  This sounds simple enough, but Muriel began to realize that if her school was going to provide this, its focus had to be on developing those skills, leadership skills.

Parents

For her research, she started by asking the key stakeholders (parents) what they desired out of their child’s school.  The same response was echoed.  Throughout the 90s, educational focus was shifted toward academic academic academic and away from any of the ‘life skills’ that some schools were teaching.  After the tragic incident at Columbine, focus began to move back towards socio-emotional and mental health skills in addition to academics.  By the end of the 90s, the world had become completely global and was only flattening more.  Muriel researched how some of fastest advancing nations (Asia) were handling this shift with regards to education and found 4 key areas of emphasis:

  • Technology
  • Global Skills
  • Analytical and life skills
  • Asian values

Not only were these schools focusing on developing their students to play on a global board, they were instilling in them the values of home and community so they would not get lost in the jungle of the world.  Parents want their children to excel and grow and succeed in the world but they want them to remain grounded as to where they came from, well mannered, self directed, and honorable.

Muriel, and many other school leaders, found herself in a unique position because she realized the focus needed to shift toward life and leadership skills, but the current system was so focused on academics and test scores that it squandered out many of the soul-enhancing skills necessary to function.

Business Leaders

Too often, I believe, schools and businesses completely separate themselves.  This leaves schools frustrated because businesses have resources to offer the schools but they don’t.  This also leaves businesses frustrated because the schools are essentially providing them their top resource (people) who aren’t always adequately prepared.  What would the world look like if these two entities combined?

Covey suggests this is happening…

“For years, business leaders have been content to remain at arm’s length and merely point fingers, but that is another thing that is changing in the new economy.  Invited or not, more and more corporate entities are getting out of their spectator chairs and becoming involved with schools.” (28)

While this is beginning to happen more, it has been over 25 years since the largest report on education completed to date, A Nation at Risk, was published and we are still stagnant in a halfway decent system.  Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a report on education saying, “The Chamber and its partners firmly believe that the traits that have long made the American private sector an engine of global prosperity-dynamism, creativity, and relentless focus on efficiency and results-are essential to tapping the potential of our educators and schools.”  (29)

So what does this tell us about our current system?  For one, it’s not working and people are beginning (again) to recognize this.  This also tells us that those in the highest positions are beginning to realize that the education sector cannot exist wholly separate from the sectors it feeds students into.

A.B. Combs surveyed business leaders about what qualities they looked for in new employees and used this as a guide to frame what to teach their students.  Below is a brief overview of those findings:

  • Communication skills
  • Honesty/integrity
  • Teamwork skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Self motivation/initiative
  • Strong work ethic
  • Analytical skills
  • Technology skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Creative minds

Muriel realized that these skills are not only essential to the development of a great employee, but of a great student, a great individual, and greatness in itself.  Companies that have transitioned from Good to Great have done so by increasing their focus on character attributes (32).

Teachers

A natural instinct would be to assume that teaching leadership skills would just be ‘one more thing’ for teachers to teach. Many assumed this about A.B. Combs and their revolutionary approach.  After visiting, though, it was shown that the classrooms were simply, “a place where students could thrive and where teachers’ creativity was unleashed while doing the same types of activities and the same amounts of work as any other typical teacher. (34)”  A.B. Combs’ approach to teaching students about these leadership and life skills is not to teach less about core skills, but to integrate the core subjects with other topics relevant to the 21st century (Life/Career skills, learning/innovation skills, technology skills).  Teachers who teach at A.B Combs have begun to feel like a family, a community working toward a common goal who all believe in the leadership potential of students.  When this happens and with correct hiring practices, students will see a community of educators who believe in them and begin to believe in themselves and their power to change the world.

Students

It has been addressed, already, that students are holistic beings and should be treated as such in all aspects of their lives.  Students need to feel connected. Students need to feel nourished in their four key areas (mental, intellectual, socio-emotional, spiritual). Students need to know they are cared about and be able to see that in those who say they are investing in them.  The school needs to be student focused.    For more details, please read “The Holistic Student.”

So How Does A.B. Combs Do It?

A.B. Combs has an individualistic view of its students; it believes in developing leaders one child at a time and making it clear to students that they are more than simply a test score or a warm body in a classroom.  This involves focusing on integrating their past, the present, and their future with the past, present, and future of their environment and creating a situation where all talent can flourish and be properly nourished.

Advertisements

The Holistic Student

When schools were designed, they were created to essentially house students all day while parents worked (because Child Labor Laws had gone into effect) and teach core academic subjects as well as respect, obedience, and discipline.  Schools were created on an oppression model where you were taught one way, expected to learn one way, and deviation from this was frowned upon.  Sounds somewhat communistic, but at the root, its where our early and basic school system got its roots.

Schools were then transitioned and expected to teach students not only core academics but expand their minds in a liberal arts fashion and teach them literature as well as life skills because not all students could learn these at home.  These life skills were often taught through religious teachings, when the society was much less diverse than today’s and before postmodern students were challenged by society to think for themselves.  A transition was then made back to focusing solely on academics and test scores and the three R’s in the 1990s.  This transition began to standardize nearly everything and essentially go back to the cookie cutter mold schools were originally created upon.  In the 2000s, we have seen the effects of this cookie cutter mold trying to be slapped on a system full of students of diverse backgrounds, it does not work.  Students are diverse and students do learn differently and our current system can not only not support that, but it is designed directly against this notion of diversity.

Today’s system (at the most core level) provides one way for teachers to teach a set of material to a potentially un-homogenous classroom in a over-homogenized manner.  The system is not student centered nor is it focused on brain based learning.  A shift is taking place where researchers are collaborating with educators to implement more brain based learning strategies in the classroom so that more students can learn in a way effective for their minds.  This shift includes trends such as learning styles, test taking skills, life skills, and a focus on developing critical thinking and analytical skills in a manner tailored to the student.

Some are taking it into account, but a critical factor that cannot be ignored is the notion that schools are not only expected, in today’s society, to provide academic education, but life skills education.  Psychologists have discovered four basic categories of needs present in all humans:

Physical: safety, good health, food, exercise, shelter, hygeine

Socio-emotional: acceptance, kindness, friendship, the desire to love and be loved

Mental: intellectual growth, creativity, and stimulating challenges

Spiritual: meaning, contribution, and uniqueness.

Because of the changes in society and our shift toward a more fast paced, global economy, schools cannot assume that physical, socio-emotional, and spiritual needs are being met outside of the classroom and must address these needs.  Students, like all humans, are holistic beings who suffer in one area if another is neglected.  Today’s society is nothing like the society in which schools were originally designed; diversity has increased and the world moves a million miles a second.  In order for schools to successfully prepare students for this world, they must address them as the holistic beings they are and focus not simply on meeting the mental needs but also the physical, socio-emotional, and spiritual needs of those who enter their doors.

A later chapter will delve into the most critical component of these, spiritual needs, and discuss how, if not addressed, students can lose their sense of uniqueness and, thus, their sense of self worth and potential.  If students’ spiritual needs are not holistically addressed in all aspects of their lives, one area will need to focus on fulfilling these more than another.  It has been stated that the three primary areas where this need can be addressed are: home, church, and school.  Youth church involvement is at an all time low and because of the diversity in student backgrounds, schools are wrong to assume that this need is addressed at home.  This leaves the school with an obligation to not only address it, but to foster a sense of connectedness.  Stay tuned for an in depth look at these two critical components.

Big Picture High School

Last Wednesday,  I met with Ralph Tagg from Nashville Big Picture High School.  It was nothing short of amazing.  Big Picture schools are high schools taking holistic approaches to learning and developing students on an individual level.  These schools operate in a radically different manner than ‘traditional’ high schools and allow students opportunities many of us dream of, even at the college level.  After Google maps took me all the way to the wrong side of town to a demolished building, I finally arrived back at Big Picture.  Walking in the door, I was greeted by the friendly office staff and the walls were painted with quotes, one of which happened to be my theme quote of my class at the Bridge this summer “WE ARE WHAT WE REPEATEDLY DO. EXCELLENCE, THEN, IS NOT AN ACT, BUT A HABIT -Aristotle”  The quotes were in the building before Big Picture moved in, but it serves as a small reminder to what the school is focused on.
Big Picture’s motto is “one student at a time” and the goal statement of the Nashville campus “From our culture of kindness, we are pursuing our passions to college and beyond.”  My visit showed me a high school culture and climate I could have only dreamed of when I was in high school.  It was radically different than anything I’d ever heard of or seen and an ‘in action’ version of nearly everything I’ve studied this semester through this project.
The first thing I noticed was how casual, yet respectful the atmosphere seemed.  We went back to Mr. Tagg’s office to sit down and discuss Big Picture and I felt like I was meeting with a friend who shared a heart for education and a passion for developing students individually to discover their passions.  Inside his office, we sat in comfortable lounge chairs surrounding a table with fun little stress balls while natural light beamed in the windows.  It did NOT feel like a principal’s office, it was homey and inviting, a breath of fresh air.
As we talked, I realized that I had said possibly 2 words to my high school principal during my 4 years at Hendersonville and never did I feel like the principal’s office was somewhere I could just go to ask questions.  Our principal walked around the halls and talked with students some, but as I’ve mentioned before, our school was very sports oriented, thus it felt as if the administration had time only for those involved in trouble or sports.
Quotes will come later after I’ve analyzed the interview recording, but Mr. Tagg talked in great length about the mission of Big Picture and just what ‘one student at a time’ looks like at his school. Students are not in classrooms full of textbooks for 6 hours a day while a teacher talks at them and gives them homework or worksheets.  Students at Big Picture are assigned to an ‘advisory’ which is similar to a ‘homeroom.’  These students remain with this advisor for their duration at Big Picture and are individually mentored by this advisor in their core subject areas as well as being mentored by the other students (of varying grades) in their advisory.  These advisories become like families, as does the entire school.  In these advisories, students work on their academic development online with assistance from the advisor or other students who understand the material.  These online academic development programs called A+ are individually tailored to meet the student where s/he is.  Not all students are at the same academic level when they get to Big Picture, thus their academic experiences will be tailored to meet them where they are, and get them to where they need to be to continue to the next level.
On Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays, students are in their advisories where they work on academics as well as individual projects.  These projects are tailored to the students’ interests, much like the internship program I will discuss soon.  9th grade students spend their first 9 weeks working on a “Who Am I?” project where they discover their interests and how those interests can lead to a career.  This can obviously change, but allowing students to explore these early allows them to explore different jobs while still in high school and develop skills necessary for all jobs in life.  Students, when not working on their academics, will develop (with the help of advisors and parents) an individual project that allows them to explore how the core subjects of academia fit into their interests and just what math looks like in this career or how english and social studies can help that career.
On Tuesdays/Thursdays, students are involved in an internship in the Nashville area.  These internships, again, are tailored to the student’s individual interests.  Students use the information they discovered during their “Who Am I?” project to find careers that interest them and explore them.  Because Big Picture focuses on developing students as individual learners and leaders, students are expected to find contacts in the community in their particular field and seek them out for an interview.  After this interview, students may return for a job shadow day, which can lead to an internship for the year.  These opportunities are some of the most critical and important ones at Big Picture.  Ralph describes them with such a passion and believes strongly, as Big Picture does, that these internships are where students can develop their personal, leadership, communication, and other necessary skills for their futures.
Students at Big Picture are also immersed in a ‘culture of kindness.’  Although some students come from rough backgrounds and the diversity of backgrounds between students is amazingly beautiful, there has only been one fight ever at the school and Ralph discusses how they steer clear from suspensions and prefer to work problems out at school.  He describes suspension as hardly a viable option because then students are left at home to get into trouble, which can lead to dropouts.  Students were all amazingly friendly to each other, to their advisors, and to Mr. Tagg, addressing everyone (mostly) by first name.  Everyone seemed to know everyone and it felt like a family.  Ralph mentions that, much like a real family, troubles do arise, but they have such a system in place that problems can be worked through and addressed in a mature, professional manner.
Another thing I noticed was the maturity of students at the school.  I spoke with two students, a boy and a girl, during my visit and both described Big Picture as seemingly one of the best experiences of their lives.  One student seemed saddened by the fact that she wasn’t at the academic level she should be for her grade, but talked about how her middle schools and elementary schools were not set up in a manner where she could learn effectively and they moved ‘too fast.’  This is the case for far too many students.  She went on to tell me how Big Picture has really helped her academically as well as personally.  She is working with an amazing photographer and developing not only her passion for photography, but learning about the business side of it all as well.  She discussed how her internship experience has really helped her figure out what she wants to do and has given her great experience for her future.  She confirmed what I had already felt from the warm atmosphere, but she said Big Picture really felt like a family to her and everyone was really close, but still really focused.
After talking with a student and Ralph for about an hour, I was given a tour of the school.  The school is not in its permanent home, but the warm, encouraging quotes painted on the wall still fit the atmosphere Big Picture was trying to create.
We went down the hall toward the cafeteria and, again, I noticed the warm atmosphere.  Students were kind to each other and addressed Mr. Tagg by either “Ralph” or “Mr. Tagg.”  Mr. Tagg knew their names and smiled at them and they returned the favor, but not in the intimidating, forced way so many high school students can.  To me, this was an out of the office example of the fact that Mr. Tagg builds relationships not only with his staff, but with his students.  Big Picture truly felt like a family in this sense that it had its ‘father figure’ who was well respected.
Once in the cafeteria, I was introduced to a student who had transferred in from a well-known, academically advanced, nationally ranked magnet school just recently.  He described his experience as enlightening and awakening.  He said Big Picture had really allowed him an experience to explore academics and school in a way he never thought possible.  While not all students can benefit from the structure of Big Picture, this student mentioned that the internship and experienced based system had helped him flourish even more than the academically rigorous environment he was in at his old school.
After lunch, Ralph and I headed out to see the advisories.  Advisories are similar to home rooms in most schools.  Students are assigned an advisory their freshman year and remain in that advisory until they graduate, barring any significant problems.  Advisories become like families.  Students learn together, challenge each other, and thrive together.  There were around 15 students per advisory and one advisor.  The advisor’s desk was set up as a ‘meeting area’ where students can meet one on one with the advisor for academic coaching and other related events.  Each advisory was arranged and decorated different, to suit not only the style of the advisor, but the needs of the students.  Students who were not meeting one-on-one with the advisor were either working independently on their academics through an online system or working on their individual projects relating their internship to academics.  Older students were assisting younger ones and vice versa all across the room.  Students were free to be creative as well as comfortable room and it felt like I had walked into a study room at a coffee shop.  The atmosphere was warm and inviting but also inspiring and there was an air of productivity in the room.
After seeing advisories, meeting students, and talking with Ralph Tagg, I began to realize that Big Picture seemed to be everything I had studied about this semester for my project, in one small school.
Community groups supported it while it supported the community.
Students were individually addressed while still participating in group activities.
Academics were individually catered while still structured around the state-mandated tests.
Faculty and staff felt like a family, but still function effectively with the needs of the students in mind.
Parents were expected/required to be involved and often volunteered as much as they could.
The environment and schedule was flexible and catered to the needs of the students in order to make them most effective.
Students were kind to one another while still respecting each other and offering help when it was needed.
Big Picture is not for everyone because of its radically different style of educating, though.  It does help bring out the creativity in students as well as help them develop on a personal level while still remaining in an academically structured environment.  Students are not treated as numbers and are seen as the volunteers of the system while the parents are guarantors and the community is a stakeholder.  This can be seen no clearer than through the internship expectation and the parental involvement expectation.  Students must seek this out on their own and the community must be receptive.
Big Picture is centralized around individual learning and is a small enough environment for this to take place.  While I disagree that this approach could work for all students, what would the school system look like if more Big Picture type option schools were available and publicized?

Chapter 9 :The Boundary System

Chapter 9 :The Boundary System

Schlechty defines the boundary system as that which defines resources and actions that the school controls or attempts to control as well as the relationship between schools/individuals and the areas of the ‘insiders’ lives where the school believes it can exercise authority.  The key element to this system is the organizational set, that is, who the school interacts with (individuals, businesses, other systems, etc.).

Other key terms involved in the boundary system are boundary extensiveness and boundary permeability.  Extensiveness deals with the range of actions and resources an organization attempts to exercise control over and the degree of detail to which this control is exercised.  Permeability relates to the ability of outside groups to influence the inside groups.

The boundary systems deals with what the school/school system perceives to have or has control over in the lives of its students, parents, teachers, community members.  For example, should principals be required to attend all school events?  How much homework should the schools be allowed to give students to do outside of school? How much involvement should schools require/encourage? What role are other administrators required to play in the social atmosphere of the school? Questions such as these, along with many others are directly related to the boundary system and its extensiveness and permeability.

Boundary systems deal directly with some of the most controversial issues in the minds of parents today.  Parents often argue about how much homework a school should be allowed to assign.  After all, kids have other commitments than school: soccer practice, dance, band, church, family night, etc.  Where is the line between not enough and too much? For some kids it takes longer to do certain assignments, for some kids assignments are done instantly.  Should the school be allowed more into the lives of those who complete assignments slower? Should children end up spending hours upon hours doing homework or is this too much?

What about teachers and other employees….Should they be required to attend all school events, even those above and beyond regular school hours? The teachers are already working 5 days a week, should they be required to come in on saturdays for events too?

Today’s boundary system is full of gray areas and loopholes.  There seem to be very few set boundaries to address these questions and any boundaries set would risk being perceived/implemented in a rigorous overly structured manner which leaves the system worse off than before.

Schlechty suggests that “what is needed is a redefinition of the boundary positions of both parents and students. This redefinition must honor the fact that parents have a special position in the constellation of school life. It must also recognize that students have obligations to the school just as the school and teachers have obligations to the students. Students and teachers alike must accept responsibility for performance and achievement as must principals, superintendents, and boards of education. This means that parents and students must be defined as types of school district insiders.” p.181

Too often, the parents and students are treated as outsiders to the system that should be designed with the students’ best interests.  Parents and students being defined as insiders in the system would radically change the way that nearly all activities are conducted in the system.  This change cannot happen unless the boundary system paired with systems such as the authority system and others implement the notion that both students and teachers are responsible for achieving performance standards.  Teachers cannot teach to those who cannot learn and students cannot learn from teachers who do not teach.  It is always a two way street.  None of these things can happen, however, unless the system provides enough resources, etc to the classrooms which is where the responsibility is delegated to superintendents, principals, and boards of education.

While students should be the main focus of the system and things should be centered around their needs, they should also be held accountable for their end of the two way street of education. “Defining the student as a customer does not excuse the student from responsibility. It simply redefines that responsibility. In terms of school work the bargain is a simple one. The school and the teachers promise the students and parents that they will strive to create work that students find to be engaging, and students will promise that they will expend whatever effort required to learn what needs to be learned to achieve the goals toward which the work is directed.” p.183

In all of these situations, students must be  viewed as customers who should be engaged not simply compliant.

In order for students to be able to achieve these goals, parents and schools should both be involved, in an essentially equal manner.  If one has more responsibility than the other, one relationship will suffer.  A student who has the school investing in them more than the parent can potentially suffer academically because s/he does not have the support at home to counter the support s/he receives at school.  One who has more support at home than at school will not do well academically because the school will not be effectively challenging the student.  Parents must be held accountable by school and the society at large (which requires a macrosocial change) to give the child opportunities to complete the engaging work the school has provided and provide any supplemental resources needed to complete the work or seek out organizations that can provide these supplements.  Schools can also direct parents toward these supplements, but it is their responsibility to make sure that the student utilizes them.

It is all a cyclical motion that must continue for it to work properly and if any part fails, the others suffer tremendously.

 

 

Teachers as Civil Service Employees

“Today growing numbers of parents view teachers as nothing more nor less than civil service employees, deriving what ever authority they have from their position in a government run bureaucracy rather than from their position in the moral order of the community” p.180 ‘Creating Great Schools’
Why is this?
I can come up with any number of theoretical explanations, but why are schools no longer the center of our communities?  A few blogs back (http://realeducationalleadership.blogspot.com/2009/11/where-have-schoolhouses-of-communities.html) , I discussed that schools are no longer community centers or community builders and that communities don’t always reciprocate to help build the schools either.  Schools have simply been cast aside, in the most extreme cases, as just another store on its way out of business.  
To me, this is a tragedy.
When I was younger, school activities were the center of my life, and still are to some extent.  This was slightly because both my sister and I were in school and my mother worked for a school, but it seemed to me that whatever activities were going on in the local schools, the community noticed, responded, and supported.  I grew up in a small town (not tiny, but not urban by any means) with nearly a dozen elementary schools feeding into around 8 middle schools feeding into 4 high schools and it seemed that these schools were the center of community events.  Sporting events were advertised on billboards, the newspaper had and entire section dedicated to schools, and everyone knew the teachers.  This sounds like super-small town America these days but this was only a decade ago!
Many people seem to have cast aside the public school system like they cast aside a local business gone bad.  Instead, the wealthy families put their children into private schools and complain that their tax dollars still support those less fortunate in the public schools.  Parents who either cannot afford or still have hope for the public schools try, but often can do very little to change their district’s design.  This design is often implemented by the state which has gotten its orders from the national system, so many parents just give up.  They realize that, too often, politics has plagued the school system as just another thing to fight over funding for.  Too often, the school board is just another political system that cares little about the actual students and too much about its own agenda.  Again, I call this a tragedy.
Many of these opinions are stemming completely from my experience, so take them lightly.  Feel free to share your experiences with me, because I am extremely open to seeing if this is a nation-wide pandemic or just localized to certain areas.  My state has one of the worst education systems in the country (in the bottom 5), so I’m hoping this is not the case in all states.  
Many parents/community members have become disenfranchised with the school system and often view teachers as simply civil service agents, not molders of the minds of the future.  
Teachers, on the other hand, are often faced with miles after miles of red tape to do anything against the grain, no matter how much it will help the students.  They can often get to a point where they feel as if they are simply robots in an inefficient factory designed to produce numbers over results and cookie cutters over creativity.  
How have we gotten to this point and what can we do about it?
Is this because they are fed up with the system?
Does the system put teachers in a position where they are left little autonomy so they often are forced to function as robots?
Do we simply not value education anymore?
Help me understand this dilemma.

Standardize This

“ A system designed to provide opportunity is not the same kind of system as one required to ensure results.” p162 “Creating Great Schools”
What does this really mean?
In my last blog, I discussed how schools/districts/states can place such a high emphasis on increasing test scores that they become distracted from increasing the learning potential of their students.  Test scores can become the focus so much that critical thinking skills and creativity might be byproducts of the rigorous memorization of facts but they aren’t truly valued.  
I believe that the increase on standardized testing has been one of the largest blunders of our educational endeavors over the past decade.  I discussed previously the differences between technical fixes and adaptive changes and increasing test scores is only a technical fix.  Test scores are, as my previous blog suggests, a minor indicator in the grand scheme of improving education quality.  However, if we design the system so that it is simply made to improve specific indicators (test scores), then yes, the scores will go up, but will the students have truly learned?
For example, if an employee prone to poor performance knows he or she is being evaluated on performance AND knows the exact times when this evaluation occurs, will the performance improve overall or simply on the things s/he is being evaluated on for the period of the evaluation?  We cannot be 100% certain, but it is safe to assume that the chronically poor employee will ‘look good’ for the time being, but will fall back into old habits as soon as the performance period has ended.
Schools are designed to foster a love of learning and produce quality citizens for society, but if those goals are displaced in the quest to have tangible results, the system may be shifted to focus on increasing indicators, not reaching a goal.  In today’s me-me-me instant society, we want results and we want them to be available now in a simple form that is measurable and easy to understand.  Calculating how students are learning, if one takes different learning styles, backgrounds, disadvantages, and cultural facts into consideration, is not simple and quantitive.  Test scores are quantitative, though, so we have slipped into the notion that the number a student receives on a test defines them.
We have allowed our minds to cloud so much that we ignore the original mission of education and have displaced our goals to the point that all we care about is a number on a piece of paper.  We often disregard the hundreds upon thousands of factors that play into the reasoning behind the number.  We give every student the same test, regardless of background and wonder why some do better than others. 
Some would argue that there must be a way to quantify student achievement nationally and multiple choice tests are the only logical manner in which this can be achieved.  If we have different tests for different areas, too many variables will come into play and there will be a much broader degree of advantages/disadvantages to specific tests to specific students.  Some would even argue that specific tests designed toward specific cultures of areas of the country would further the development of miniature cultures across the country instead of unifying students.  
These are all completely valid arguments and issues that should be addressed.  I do not have the knowledge or the training to even begin to answer them, but we must remember to have a litmus test when creating answers and solutions to these problems.  Things must be student centered.  We must not create tests for our own needs and our own reassurances.  
In the classroom, if we continue to narrowly focus on test scores, we will continue to teach to the test.  Teaching to the test denies most students the opportunities to be engaged.  It denies teachers the opportunity to make all material relevant.  Teaching to the test is like giving an employee the evaluation before evaluation day so they know exactly how to act.  It teaches them nothing about personal integrity and doing what’s right because you should.  Teaching to the test turns students into human fact boxes who can regurgitate facts but not be able to relate them to their lives.  Standardized tests are multiple choice and true false, both methods that have been identified time after time as disruptive to quality learning and critical thinking.
Teaching to the test is the easy way out, technical fix to an issue that needs an adaptive, systemic change.  We cannot continue to treat our students as if they are all the same, only differentiated by the number assigned to them by a testing company.  
In “Creating Great Schools,” Schlechty quotes Diane Ravitch, a prominent educational analyst, as saying “the society that allows large numbers of its citizens to remain uneducated, ignorant, or semiliterate squanders its greatest asset, the intelligence of its people” p.162 

Chapter 8- The Directional System

Chapter 8
The Directional System
Schlecty suggests that the directional system is another one of the six critical sytems that must be addressed when reforming public education systems.  The directional system consists of anything and everything involved in where the organization (school) will go in the future and how it will get there.  The directional system, in a nutshell, establishes and maintains direction.  There are four factors that influence this system: competing loyalties, goal clarity, goal consensus, and goal displacement.
Competing loyalties involve the tendency of individuals inside the organization to develop loyalties to projects, programs, and subunits to projects within the organization and outside agencies that are making competing claims on the organizations resources.  Competing loyalties may occur when a teacher is also part of a teachers union or his/her spouse runs a local business that benefits or would like to benefit from a school project. Coaches and advisors for extracurricular activities often have competing loyalties because they must fulfill their teaching requirements but are also loyal to the success of their team or club.  Often, coaches can find themselves in predicaments when they need more funding for a particular advancement of their sport but the school also needs more money for academic activities.  These loyalties don’t have to be issues if the moral order of the school is sufficiently inclusive and responsive to the needs of every unit that has a legitimate claim on its resources.  In order for this order to be and remain established, goal clarity and goal consensus must be firm.
Goal clarity involves all insiders recognizing what the goal is, how it is to be achieved, and what particular things are involved in this goal.  Often, steps may be established and benchmarks may be set to ensure that the goal is achievable.  Goal clarity ensures that there are few gray areas in the definition of particular goals of the organization.
Goal consensus involves all insiders coming to a consensus that the goal is one that should be pursued.  There will always be several insiders who do not believe in the goal, but if a general consensus is reached and the goal is clear, it will become much more manageable and thus, achievable.  100% consensus will never be reached on a particular goal and if a particular goal comes close to this level, it is probably very vague and easily misinterpreted.  Goal consensus needs to be focused on and achieved mainly within a small circle of those who will lead the systemic change and those who will help with this change.
Goal displacement occurs, more often than not, because of a lack of goal clarity and consensus.  When this occurs, operational goals (doing things the right way) replaces substantive goals (doing the right things).  This can be critical to the downfall of an organization because getting wrapped up in the ‘way things are done’ can often lead to neglecting what things should actually be done.
When establishing goals, all of these factors must be considered.  Schlechty suggests that utilizing standardized testing to improve schools has resulted in one of the gravest occurrences of goal displacement in history.  Statements in schools relating to standardized testing often include phrases such as “Test scores will increase 5% over the next 2 years.”  This goal says nothing about how this will be done, what will be achieved, etc.  It is focusing on the indicators of change, not the actual change itself: numbers on paper not knowledge in minds.  A better way to express the goal to increase student achievement, utilizing goal clarity, would be “our faculty will design more tasks that students fine engaging and from which they will learn important things.”   This goal articulates exactly what the problem is and focuses on it, not the indicators of it (test scores).  This goal statement, as great goal statements should, focuses on what will be done as well as what will be achieved.  It does not mention specific indicators because this can often lead to narrowly designed, robotic curricula.
Schlecty suggests that “A high emphasis on standardized testing  pushes teachers to a strategy of preferring knowledge that is superficially held (low on retention and transferability) as opposed to knowledge that is profoundly held (high on retention and transferability) . Test scores are not bad, they can simply serve as a distraction from those things that must be attended to if improvement is to occur, as profit does in for-profit businesses.” p156 “Creating Great Schools”  In essence, focusing a goal toward test scores instead of toward creating engaging work may result in higher test scores immediately because students have memorized the test, but students will not have gained much knowledge and will not be engaged in school.  They will grow to hate learning and see the world in a factual-only based manner.  Schools may achieve their benchmarks and be allowed to remain open, keep staff, etc, but will the students really learn anything from simply regurgitating facts? No.
As Schlechty mentions, test scores are not bad, we must have a way to assess progress across the board, but if they become our main focus, schools may die out just as businesses who’s single purpose is to focus 100% of efforts on raising profits.  Temporary gains but eventual destruction.