Thursday, June 09, 2005


Q. Educators have trouble making decisions. They say: “We’ve ALWAYS done it this way.” It does seem as though the private sector is more decisive. Why is this?

For various economic reasons, we don’t have to pay educators high salaries. We compensate by giving them great fringe benefits and a lot of power over their working conditions.

On top of this, we’re consolidating school districts drastically, which makes everybody but those at the very top feel less significant. So we seek to mitigate that by giving them more “say.” But when school employees form such a large group, their voices and their wishes tend to outshout school boards and the electorate, who have become rubber stamps. It’s the old “inmates in charge of the asylum” routine.

That’s how we get distortions in decision-making, especially with “management by consensus.” Instead of evidence-based, rational decision-making by leaders flexible enough to respond to problems and innovate, we have rigid and old-fashioned systems in schools, such as pay and job assignments based mostly on seniority.

Schools use a collectivist approach instead of a democratic one. A typical consensus model has “site-based councils” at schools, dominated by union members, adding programs and staff because those are good for THEM, but minimizing the basics that would make the educational process more productive for CHILDREN.

Consensus management seeks to be all things to all people, instead of choosing among options to find the best. The consensus style bends ‘way over backward to give too much power to just one faction. So if everybody loves an idea EXCEPT the superintendent, it dies. If parents and taxpayers demand a change but the teachers don’t want to do it, the change doesn’t happen.

That’s how the status quo is maintained. As education thinker Alan Bersin puts it, “This is a perversion of the concepts of consultation, collaboration and cooperation, and it tends to drive agreements to a lowest-common-denominator consensus level.”


Homework: An excellent explanation of where school management has gone wrong, and how we must focus on educational productivity or perish, is available from Alan Bersin, http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050605/news_lz1e5making.html

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