Opinion & Essays
- Aug, 1998 Issue #53
The real school crisis:
By Lon Woodbury
In essence, Quality Control means keeping promises. Whether in a private
business or a public agency, those with authority and responsibility must have some way to determine if the quality of their product
or service meets basic standards and objectives, and provides what clients/recipients need. They must then use this feedback information
to help maintain consistent high standards. Though other terms are usually used, the national debate over education really boils down
to Quality Control. That is, “Do schools provide what they say they will, and what parents and the public want, in a safe, consistent,
effective and reliable way?”
Four sources of Quality Control
I count four potential sources of Quality Control relating to education:
Legislation, Parents, Educators, and Students. Because all four share responsibility for the education of students, each must have
some authority in decision making or we lose the balance that makes for a strong education program. Each group has its unique strengths
and weaknesses, so an effective program must be structured to take advantage of the strengths of each and compensate for the weaknesses
of each. There must be balance among these four to achieve a quality school.
When you know how to listen to students by understanding their reactions,
students will tell you exactly how good a program is. Virtually all children are born with an innate curiosity and a desire to learn.
A school or program that is properly structured will build on that positive tendency, and the children will be engaged (to use an
education buzzword), which is their major responsibility in building a quality education. But when students sense that no one is listening
to them, they will feel responsibility without authority, resulting in an increase in the number of bored or acting out students,
a sign students feel powerless and unable to make much of a contribution, to the detriment of the school.
Educators are the ones with the training and experience to foster learning.
Good educators are vital to a good program. However, when educators have the responsibility to only carry out mandates from elsewhere
and little authority to determine those mandates, they are unable to give their best efforts, to the detriment of the school.
Parents know their children better than anyone else. They know the intimate
details better than teachers, counselors, or any other professional. While professionals might have a better knowledge of narrow specifics
about a child, it is the parent that has lived with a child all of his/her life, and intuitively has a better overall sense of what
their child needs. Parents are usually seen as having the primary responsibility for all facets for raising their children. However,
when parents sense they have little authority for the education of their children, they withdraw their energy and contribution to
the school, to the detriment of the school.
The strengths of Legislation for Quality Control in education is as a collective
statement by society forcing minimum standards, and the power to close down unsafe and/or ineffective schools or programs in a direct
manner, by action of the Police if need be. It would be much more difficult to establish minimum standards by any other method.
The Impact of Expanded Aggressive Education Legislation
Since much of the contemporary education debate is in terms of national and
state legislative initiatives to expand public authority and responsibility, it is worth while to take a closer look at what might
happen if some of these expanded legislative proposals are adopted. In short, the impact of authority- increasing legislation to improve
the quality of education would bring about a reduction in the contributions to quality education by parents, students and educators,
to the overall detriment of the education system.
Unless the legislative initiatives were very wisely written, some parents
would stop taking responsibility in the area the initiative was written, and would assume the government was handling it so the parents
would not have to worry. Others, wanting to stay involved, would find they are fighting bureaucracy and red tape to get what they
think should be done for their child. While a minority of children with irresponsible parents might come out ahead from some legislative
initiatives, the majority of children who have responsible and caring parents would lose some of their parents’ involvement in his/her
life. More importantly, the education system would lose much of the benefit from active, involved parents demanding safe and effective
Aggressive directives from a legislative body about how to educate would
turn schools into mere administrative extensions of the government. Conforming to regulatory mandates would increase in importance,
along with allowing for political considerations, to the detriment of meeting the individual needs of the students. As a result, educators
would have less ability to make their best contribution to quality education.
Legislative dictates are based on broad assumptions of the categories of
childrens’ needs. Individual children are then plugged into a category by an administrator who might or might not know much about
the child. Any child whose needs were not predicted by the legislative body will automatically be poorly served. The rest would be
placed where they seem to qualify, that might or might not fit some of their needs. Student feedback in the form of acting out, or
being bored, or objecting, will then be treated as discipline problems to be controlled rather than listened to. Thus, the students’
contribution to quality education will be minimized or eliminated.
One way to consider the problems schools are having around the country is
to describe it as a Quality Control system that is out of balance. Legislative bodies and organized educational special interest groups
currently dominate the education system, at the expense of parent, student and educator authority. This is just the reverse of the
legacy from the 19th century when parents built and controlled local public schools, worked with the best teachers they could find,
and students attended because they wanted some specific knowledge, or their parents strongly encouraged them to attend. At that time,
parents and students had the reponsibility and the authority, which they shared with educators. Still, by the end of the 19th century,
the country had accomplished virtually universal male literacy (Female literacy was rapidly increasing also, but female literacy in
that rural society was not seen as high a priority). This is more than can be said for late 20th century society in which calls for
adult literacy programs are expanding, and the President is calling for massive additional emergency government expenditures to bring
students up to unmet basic literacy standards.
This is not to say we should go back to leaving education up to only students
and parents. Professionalizing the teaching profession is a definite improvement over what we had in the 19th century, and only the
government has the power to mandate minimum standards and quickly close down unsafe, unethical and fraudulent schools. The weakness
is that other legislative expansions over the 20th century expanding legislative authority for the most part replacing parent, teacher
and student authority and responsibility in education decision making, instead of supplementing them. This created a serious Quality
Control imbalance. Part of the “education solution” will be a balance to bring back meaningful parent, teacher and student responsibility
Emotional Growth Schools and Programs
Emotional Growth Schools and programs have found a good balance between these
four necessary Quality Control factors for quality education. It has done this by developing spontaneously from the ground up. In
the last twenty to thirty years, many individual educational visionaries saw that real needs of many children with behavioral/emotional
problems were not being met by the existing system, and decided to go into the school business. Working and thinking regarding specific
students, using networking and other ways to learn how to meet student and parent needs, they have found a healthy balance of the
four factors in Quality Control.
1.) Emotional Growth schools and programs accept and support
basic legislative mandated safety requirements, and utilize (and often exceed) state curriculum standards. At this limited level of
authority, the state’s directives are helpful.
2.) They operate in a parent choice environment where working with
parents and keeping them satisfied is vital to survival. The parents are so involved, exercising their authority and responsibility,
that the schools could be described in a sense as acting as the agents of the parents.
3.) They hire staff largely on the basis of competence and compatibility
with the school’s philosophy, and then give them wide authority and responsibility within that philosophy to meet the individual needs
of each student. This brings out the best in the staff through facilitating the children's growth, to the benefit of the students’
4.) When any student shows by his/her behavior that his/her needs
are not met, these schools are aggressive about finding out what that child needs. The school then does its best to provide what the
student needs, even when it sometimes means referring the child to a different school where his/her specific needs might be better
Educators and the public can learn a lot about how to develop a quality school
by observing how Emotional Growth schools and programs respond to all four elements of Quality Control. The lessons were learned by
working with those difficult-to-work-with children with behavioral/emotional problems. It can easily apply to schools for students
without those problems.
Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced
without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)