Archive for the 'The Literature' Category

Nobel Winner, Elinor Ostrom, Offers Hope for Responsive Schools


Responsive Schools Key to Good Society: Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Winner

Can citizens effectively and efficiently manage their own affairs?  Their own schools? Can self-governance work in education? YES, there is this hope for schools — provided there is limited central state interference and provided powerful special self-interest insiders don’t dominate.

That is the message Elinor Ostrom, a co-winner in this year’s Nobel Economics prize, passes on to help empower people at local levels to 1) challenge outsiders and self-interests, and 2) confidently evolve the procedures, rules, and oversight which serve their interests.  She cautions against any one-size-fits-all model. Local people, local governance.

She and others of her school of thought challenge the usual dichotomy in seeking solutions – state or market.  Should there be state finance, control and provision of services and resource management OR should the markets prevail?  There is a third way – shared ownership.

While Ostrom’s work has usually dealt with user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, she has also been embraced by development workers, especially in third world countries.  Her general principles apply to any area where citizens manage their own projects — without the heavy fist of the state or the invisible hand of the market.

Ostrom distinguishes the three methods of provision:  public, private, and civil. She sees more citizens becoming involved in policy analysis and application if they are to avoid becoming “the objects of an authoritarian regime” or exploited for profit.

Self-governing, adaptive organizations follow these principles:

1.  Balance power at many levels within the structure (checks and balances)
2.  Monitor performances and hold designated persons accountable
3.  Accept conflict as healthy, indicating need for mediation or more problem-solving
4.  Empower citizens and communities with enforceable rights to check abuses of authority

Regarding the education field she comments that simplistic solutions can go “amok”.  Amazing word to be used by an academic — "berserk, demoniacal, possessed, insane, characteristic of mental derangement” (Wikipedia)! 

After studying 70 years of school district consolidations in the name of efficiency and equity she found that these “top-down, command-and-control solutions” did not result in better achievement or lower per-pupil spending.  She concludes that “policy makers are reconsidering the consequences of past reforms and recommending charter schools, voucher systems, and other reforms to create more responsive schools.”

In other words, she concludes, “state control has usually proved to be less effective and efficient than control by those directly affected” and sometimes even “disastrous in its consequences.”

What applies to common-pool forests and fish-stocks applies to people services as well.  That is why school-based management, independent schools, charter schools, parent participation preschool cooperatives, etc. work so well.  Unfortunately, today, they are often resisted and blocked by powerful self-interests. 

Fortunately, however, we now have a more prominently revealed social science to help those who seek shared ownership solutions to social services. Change activists in education could gain a lot of tips from studying the works of Elinor Ostrom.   (See: “Policy Analysis in the Future of Good Societies” by Elinor Ostrom)


Let’s Talk About Schools


In 1984 we had a two year process of public discussion in BC which precededd a new School Act, 1989.  The Discussion Paper had 41 points which helped focus people’s participation on key issues.  The Condensed form of paper is here:


[ISBN 0-7719-9971-2] [British Columbia Ministry of Education]
Let’s Talk About Schools
To be effective, schools, like other social institutions, must respond to the world around
them. Changes in social and economic conditions have important implications for schools
and, because of this, it is necessary from time to time to review how well school systems
meet pupil needs and community expectations. In British Columbia, such a review now
appears warranted. Shifts in the economy and in patterns of employment, as well as
other social developments, are challenging our schools and educators in new ways. If we
are to capitalize on the promise of tomorrow as a Province and as a people, it seems
judicious to reflect first upon our objectives for schools and to consider the directions we
would like schooling to take in future years. More specifically, it seems important at this
point to discuss a number of questions which relate to the context in which schools
operate, the goals and structure of our school system, the relationship between schooling
and education, the responsibilities of schools, and the part teachers, administrators,
parents, arid trustees play in schooling.
The Let’s Talk About Schools paper, therefore, represents an invitation to all British
Columbians to make their views on schooling known and, in doing so, to help shape
schools of the future in this Province.
The Honourable Jack Heinrich Minister of Education
The Provincial School Review Committee would like to hear from you about our schools.
The School Act is to be revised for the first time since 1958, and if that revision is to be
successful, the beliefs, opinions and concerns of British Columbians must be taken into
Public meetings will be arranged in your area by local district review committees. This
will give you an opportunity to speak out about schooling and to understand the views of
others from your community and representatives from the field of education.
This pamphlet is a condensed version of a full discussion paper available from school
board offices. As you will see, the review is comprehensive, taking very little for granted
other than a firm commitment to schools in our province.
The questions which follow, while certainly not the only ones which can be asked about
schools today, are intended to provide a framework for discussion.
Think about them and any other areas of particular concern to you. Then make your
views known at the meetings. You can also send your comments directly to the
Committee at the following address:
Let’s Talk About Schools
University of Victoria
P.O. Box 1700
Victoria, B.C.
V8W 2Y2
 [ISBN 0-7719-9971-2] [British Columbia Ministry of Education]
This is an invitation for you to get involved and help shape the schools of the future. We
encourage your participation – it is essential to the task at hand.
The role of schools in society has been discussed since public education was first
conceived. Every generation raises questions and redefines the role of their schools
according to changing circumstances. In order to bring the schools into alignment with
the communities they serve, a clear understanding of how they relate to each other must
be formulated.
Goals of Education and Schooling
The current goals of education may be broadly identified as intellectual, social, human
and vocational development. Schools exist to assist individuals in achieving these goals,
but they are limited in what they can do. Schools may necessarily have to concentrate on
certain educational goals and society must decide which goals are most appropriate for
the school system to pursue.
1.  Do today’s goals for education accurately reflect our society’s beliefs?
2.  Are all of these goals of equal importance?
3.  Which goals of education should schools pursue?
Curriculum and Instruction
Curriculum is what is taught in the courses offered by our schools. It is currently
determined by provincially elected representatives. They are charged with seeing that
school curriculum reflects society’s goals for education and the resultant role of schools
in society. Discussion about curriculum is ongoing and intense.
4.  What should be taught and learned in schools?
5.  How should it be taught?
6.  In determining what should be taught and learned in schools, what should be the role of the Provincial
authorities? The local school boards? The professionals? Parents? The public? Pupils?
Diversity in Schools and Society
British Columbia is a social and cultural mosaic with striking regional and local variations.
The type of schooling available reflects this social diversity and cultural richness. This
raises concerns about the Province’s ability to accommodate diversity while adhering to
general goals for the school system.
7.  Are our public schools capable of responding to the many and varied needs of the people of British Columbia?
8.  Are there other forms of schooling which should be publicly supported? How should such forms of schooling be
monitored and by whom?
9.  Should public choice in schooling be enhanced? If so, how?
Standards of Achievement in Schools
With diversity of schooling comes varying standards of achievement. Pupils may require
protection to ensure they receive adequate instruction to keep pace with educational and
technological developments.
10.  What standards should be established for all schools, public and otherwise? Should standards be established for
all grades and all subjects? Who should establish these standards? Should standards be monitored? How? By
whom? [ISBN 0-7719-9971-2] [British Columbia Ministry of Education]
11.  To what extent should Province-wide examinations exist? What purposes can such examinations serve?
12.  To what extent should entrance requirements set by post-secondary institutions determine secondary school
curricula and standards?
Technological Innovation and Schools
Technology is transforming all aspects of society, and schools are no exception. New
technology offers both opportunities to improve learning and challenges, as new skills are
learned. Technology’s effect on the quality of our lives is also a major concern.
13.  How might technological change affect the schools?
14.  To what extent can schools capitalize on technological change?
15.  How can schools accommodate this technological change and make it part of school operations and programs?
16.  Are there inherent dangers in accommodating technological change? If so, what are they?
School-Community Relations
Schools are part of life in every community.
What happens in school inevitably affects home life. Schools perform a variety of
functions, some of which go beyond the act of learning. Because of this, schools can
become a focal point of community discontent or a bonding force that holds a community
17.  To what extent should parents and other members of the community be involved with schools, and to what
extent should schools be involved in the life of the community?
18.  How can school-community relations be strengthened?
19.  What should be areas of consultation for trustees, school professionals, parents, and the community?
Legislative Provisions for School Governance and Management
Schooling is a Provincial responsibility. The Provincial Government of British Columbia
administers this responsibility through the School Act and its Regulations. It delegates
certain tasks to school boards. In revising the School Act, areas of responsibility can be
developed and clarified.
20.  Is the separation of authority to govern the public schools suitable in light of current conditions? Should school
board requests for greater autonomy be met? Should school board powers be reduced, expanded, or remain
the same? Would enlargement of school board autonomy Improve the effectiveness of schools?
21.  What processes and mechanisms might be devised to ensure that the Provincial Government and school boards
remain accountable to society at large, and responsive to the needs of local communities?
22.  Is the current system of political accountability satisfactory or should new instruments of accountability, such
as recall and local initiative be considered?
23.  Should individual schools be permitted to have a school council made up of parents and other community
members? To what extent should such councils have powers delegated by school boards?
Labour Relations
Good labour relations encourage a well-motivated and effective workforce. In the school
community, harmonious labour relations contribute to the quality of classroom
instruction. Sound bargaining practices are a key element in all of this.
24.  Should all school board employees be covered by the same collective bargaining rules?
25.  Should the present system of bargaining be retained? If not, how should it be changed? Should the scope of
bargaining be expanded?
26.  Should compulsory and binding arbitration be retained for teachers? Should strikes and lockouts be permitted
as an alternative to arbitration? [ISBN 0-7719-9971-2] [British Columbia Ministry of Education]
Financing Provincial Schools
Public schooling in British Columbia is financed by revenues raised through local taxation
and by Provincial Government grants. Responsibility for school support is thus shared
between the Provincial Government and the province’s 75 school districts on a
proportional basis determined by Provincial authorities.
27.  Who should set levels of school board spending? The Province? Local school boards? The Province and School
boards together?
28.  Should school boards be allowed to raise taxes above those required to sustain basic levels of school service
determined by the Province?
29.  Is the goal of equality in schooling best served by the Province establishing a basic level of service that must be
provided in all school districts?
School District Budgets
In January of 1984 a new system for determining school board budgets was introduced
by the Provincial Government. This system applies Provincially-set formulas based on
prescribed pupil-teacher ratios to estimate allowable levels of school board spending.
30.  Should funds to schools be targeted for specific purposes?
31.  Should financial resources be shared equally between elementary, intermediate and secondary schools on a per
capita basis? Should school districts utilize school-based budgeting systems?
32.  Are existing levels of funding adequate to meet current public expectations for schools?
Responsibilities and Rights of Parents and Pupils
Existing legislation does not set out in a comprehensive or unified way the responsibilities
and rights of parents and pupils. Pressing parental concerns about human rights, natural
justice, parental choice, standards of achievement, technology, and alternative schools
are all very much a part of today’s scene.
33.  Should parental and pupil responsibilities be specifically codified in law?
34.  Should parents be allowed to keep their children at home and provide schooling for their youngsters
themselves? Should parents receive assistance in schooling children at home?
35.  Should a period of compulsory schooling exist or should pupils be required instead to attain certain levels of
achievement? Is the present period of compulsory attendance for children aged seven to 15 satisfactory? If not,
what should be the period of compulsory attendance?
Teacher Professionalism
Whatever challenges society poses for schools, it is the teacher who is charged with the
task of translating them into learning opportunities for the young. Skilled conscientious
teachers are essential to achieving society’s goals for education.
36.  Do current training programs for teachers offer adequate preparation for careers in the classroom? Who should
set policies for teacher education programs and certification? Are current provisions for in-service or
professional development adequate?
37.  Should professional development or the "upgrading" of teacher qualifications be made a condition of continuing
employment? Should teachers be permitted to teach only in the subject and grade areas in which they are
38.  How can teacher professionalism be demonstrated? How can it be monitored and evaluated? Who should
monitor and evaluate teacher professionalism?
 [ISBN 0-7719-9971-2] [British Columbia Ministry of Education]
Administrative Professionalism
Effective administration helps support all sound instructional programs. Individual school
management is the responsibility of the school principal. Professional administration is
integral to the quality of instruction, to a productive environment and to the smooth
functioning of our schools. It also affects the role of the school in the life of the
39.  Should school principals be granted greater authority in designing school programs? Or in administering
resources allocated to their schools?
40.  If individual schools had their own school councils what would such a development mean to the role and
responsibilities of principals?
41.  Should school principals be part of an employee bargaining unit? If so, should this bargaining unit be the same
one that represents teachers?
This has been a brief introduction to some of the issues bearing upon the Province’s
schools and all involved with them – which includes just about everyone. For a fuller
treatment of the issues you can obtain the complete discussion paper. Let’s Talk About
Schools, from your local school board.
For a chance to speak up and be listened to, please attend local public meetings
organized by your school board.
You may also send your written comments to:
Let’s Talk About Schools
University of Victoria
P.O. Box 1700
Victoria. B.C.
V8W 2Y2

Disturbing Trends in Education, Revisited

The October, 1981 issue of Education Advisory listed 11 disturbing trends in Education, all with supporting quotes. These disturbing trends are now added to the category in this blog of DECEITS in Education.  Do the disturbing trends and deceits in education of 1981 still apply in 2008, 27 years later?


1. Decline in Public Involvement

“If we believe in the principle that public education is of the public, for the public and by the public, then the present trend is bad. In my study I have found that we have less public involvement than we had ten years ago.” Dr. Art Kratzmann, Dean of Education, Univ. of Victoria, BC after completing a one-year study of education in Western countries, 1981.


2. Unions’ Negative Effect on Student Achievement

Robert E. Doherty, public-sector labor arbitrator concludes that teacher bargaining has contributed to declines in student achievement (in Faculty and Teacher Bargaining, G.W.Angell, editor, Heath & Co. Pub, 1981) also see Schools in Jeopardy: Collective Bargaining in Education by P.Hennessy, McClelland and Stewart, 1979.


3. Politics in Teacher Training

“Too often education faculty members seem bent on pressing particular dogma or ideology…” Dr. Walter Hardwick, former Deputy Minister of Education, BC, 1980.

4. Teacher Power

“Citizens seek to enlarge their control of schools. This movement comes at the same time that teachers seek increased autonomy FROM lay control. Thus, laymen and teachers are on a collision course,” Donald Myers in Teacher Power, Professionalization and Collective Bargaining, 1973.


5. School Boards Off Track

“School Boards deal largely with fringe elements (e.g. fundraising, school construction, pupil meals, etc.) instead of more basic features of school organization and the main components of curricula.” OECD Review of Canadian Education, 1976.


6. Swelling Educational Bureaucracies

“In Toronto…(only) 5,000 of the school board’s 9,000 employees are teachers.” From “The Trouble in Our Schools. TODAY magazine, Sept 15, 1981.


7. Parents Not Aware of Decline

“I don’t think parents are as acutely aware of the achievement decline as many other people are….I think there’s an enormous unawareness on the part of parents as to what the schools are doing.” John Goodlad, Dean of Education, Univ. of California after 7-year study of American education, 1980.


8. Teaching Problems Lead to Learning Problems

“I always see far more problems in the WAY the students have been taught previously than in the students themselves.” W.A.T. White, Dept of Special Education, University of Oregon


9. Crime/LD Connection

“I estimate that 80-90% of the young people who come before me in the provincial court were learning disabled as revealed by their pre-sentence reports.” Former BC Provincial Court Judge, Nancy Morrison, 1981.


10. Pursuit of Panaceas

“Schools probably more than any other institution in our society, seem to be particularly vulnerable to fads, poorly tested concepts, and the need to appear scientific and up to date.” Irwin a. Hyman, Policy Studies Review Annual, p 649, SAGE, 1980.


11. Questionable Response by Teachers to Parents

“Governments are increasing their structures for parental involvement…and parents say they want more involvement. What will be the response of the professionals? Will we as professionals attempt to welcome parental involvement, listening with open ears to their suggestions and concerns? Or will we follow governmental regulations for parental involvement in the most patronizing way, meeting the regulations only because they are required?” from Special Education in Canada, Vol 55, #2, pg 24 by Lusthaus, Lusthaus and Gibbs in Parental Involvement in School Decision-making, 1981.


Resistance to Meaningful Parent Involvement

Why is there Resistance to Meaningful Parent Involvement?

 “There are many compelling reasons for schools and districts to pay more than lip service to parental involvement,” said reporter, Katherine Wagner, in her column School Watch in the Maple Ridge and Pitt meadows Times, August 31, 2007.

Her article, entitled “PAC is more than just fundraising” (PAC: Parent Advisory Council) describes six levels of parent involvement. While research wholeheartedly supports the value of meaningful parent involvement, Wagner’s article points out that “stakeholders are often reading from different dictionaries when defining the term parent involvement.”

Despite the obvious benefits, “resistance” and “barriers” still exist. For example, her article points out that her school district #42 has not yet decided to include parent involvement in its mission, vision and value statements. A local trustee, Stepan Vdovine,  commented:

 There are still some parents who continue to struggle for a more meaningful involvement and in some cases for simply decent and fair treatment.”


Dear Reader:  Please see my Comment attached to this post for an article I did 28 years ago on this topic.  TA


The Fiction of Education Reform

[This review is basically a re-write of a review done in the 80’s. I expect to re-read this book in the future and expect to make further comments. TA]

Book Review

Beyond Public Education, Myron Lieberman, 1986, Praeger

Fact and Fiction of Education Reform

Lieberman’s book could be the starting point for anyone concerned with our public schools. He says that all the reform efforts of the last few decades are unrealistic and even “harmful” to education. His book largely refers to the American scene, but from what I’ve read most of the insights apply to the Canadian scene as well.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the system, the following insights from a long-time “insider” since the 50’s are revealing. The major obstacles to educational reform include:

  • The structure governing public education
  • Teacher unions
  • Tenure laws
  • Insulation from competition or alternatives
  • Leadership gap

Even as reform efforts may point to desirable new directions, their major flaw is failing to acknowledge the above obstacles which are too real to ignore. The symbolic gestures at reform produce the illusion of concern and serve to perpetuate the status quo with its vested interests.

Media gullibility obscures the political, educational and intellectual bankruptcy of the reform movement. Educational reform is taking place in newspaper articles and television broadcasts, not in classrooms.

Educational deterioration is real enough, though understated, says Dr. Lieberman.

  • Illiteracy is a major problem
  • Many remedial courses in colleges/universities are needed to bring students up to speed
  • Avoidance of testing contributes to grade inflation and covers up decline in achievement
  • Increase in high school programs lacking any defensible academic purposes

Audience for Whom the Message is Addressed

The price of the book ($67.00 in 1986) meant that not many parents would read the book, even though they are one of the major intended audiences of the author.

“One of my major objectives is to help parents reject cosmetic changes in education that leave the status quo essentially unchanged. My analysis is intended to explain how and why parent participation in school affairs is usually futile…”

Of course, all the myriad policy-makers and players are enjoined to read the book: unions, school boards, legislators, media, business people, etc. From my experience, the analysis in the book equips the status quo for greater resistance to parents than to assist parents. Now, 20 years after the publication of that book and after my first reading of it I think that is true. The status quo persists. (Example: 7 of the 9 trustees at the Vancouver School Board are teachers, ex-teachers, or in the education system one way or another and one member is an ex teacher union official. Isn’t that conflict of interest? One board member has been there for over 20 years! Now that is status quo! Should there be term limits? How effective can parent voice be before such a body?)

What’s to Be Done?

Lieberman states repeatedly that the purpose of the whole effort is an educated citizenry, not the apparatus that has grown up around the effort. He makes two suggestions for real improvement in education:

  1. Improve Family Choice Since parents have no voice in educational governance or quality control, at least if they had a choice of schools, their “consumer” activity would trigger competition, improvement, etc. The vehicle for this would be tuition tax credits or vouchers.
  2. Entrepreneurial Schools Either founded by businesses or educator entrepreneurs, these schools would be more efficient, relevant, innovative and responsive to their constituents (parents and students). Their emphasis would be on results, marketable skills, jobs, and personal pride.

For the first time ever, a complete un-masking of the education industry by an ex teacher, ex teacher union negotiator and a university professor and now chairman of the Education Policy Institute.