søndag den 24. oktober 2010

Cultural encounter – reforming schools the American way

Dette blogindslag er for de virkeligt nørdede. Det er et meget langt indlæg hvor jeg sammenligner den amerikanske måde at reformere skoler på med den danske måde. Jeg tager udgangspunkt i en konference jeg deltog i for to uger siden i Washington. Konferencen handlede om hvordan amerikanske skoledistricter samarbejder med lærere og deres fagforening om at reformere amerikanske skoler. Jeg sammenligner det med den danske måde at reformere folkeskolen gennem samarbejde, og jeg giver en god grund til at det nationale partnerskab i Danmark om skolen brød sammen her i efteråret.

God læsning, Kristian




The school conference in Washington
A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference organized by scholars from the university I´m visiting – Rutgers University, School of Management and Labor Relations – and American Federations of Teachers (ATF). The conference took place in Washing DC at the Hilton Hotel – the hotel where Reagan was shot!

The conference topic was: Collaborative School Reform – School Reform From Within”. It focused on what is rarely in the American school system – reforming schools through collaboration between The American Federation of Teachers (ATF) and the School Districts. And my God the conference was a cultural encounter!

First, I witnessed a talk by the president of (ATF), Randi Weigraten. ATF is a large union with 1,5 million members and Randi Weingarten is a real American superstar traveling arround the US promoting collaboration as a mean to reform schools from within, also appearing on Larry King Live and Meeting the Press.

The presentation started the American way with a pre-presentation by ATF vicepresident, who praised Randi Weingartens results before the superstart herself entered the scene. The next day Randi Weigarten presented another American superstar, congressman George Miller from Californien, whose engagement in politics she compared to late congressman Ted Kennedy. She praised Millers legislation results regarding education and labor-employment regulation. The first act Obama signed was in fact written by congressman Miller – who by the way took of immediately after he had talked because he had a campaign to run against a feisty tea party candidate, as he said.

This is really not the Danish way of doing presentations. We do not flash our results this way. I kind of liked it. The next time I am going to present something, I will bring one of my colleagues to present my results!

Futhermore, Randi Weingarten toned her speech a lot. When she talked about the serious task of teachers she talked slowly and seriously which created a sense of the urgent need of teachers to be open towards collaboration. “We need to prepare our kids for todays work, and transform our schools to the knowledge economy“. “It is not a choice”, she said further. “No other industry, private as well as public, gets those demands to create tomorrow's society”.

I think Randi Weigartens talk was too much of a pathos talk for my academic taste. So let me turn to the content of the conference: Collaborative School Reform – School Reform From Within

Attending the conference was quite unique. Superintendents, union leaders, teachers and legislators from all over the US attended the conference – from the west in California to the east in New York state. They all presented their experiences regarding collaboration between teachers, union leaders and district superintendents. In the start of the conference it was quite difficult to understand what they were saying. Not because I couldn´t understand the language, but because I wasn´t familier with the context. Often, it was quite obscure for a Dane. Do you for instance know what a “right to work” state is? No? It is a state were collective bargaining is forbidden by law!

But after listening to all the presentations, after discussing with legislators, lobbyists and research scholars, and after witnessing a discussion between superintendents from St. Louis and Philadelphia, I now have some insigths into how the relations between labor and management works in the American School system. Relations between labor and management and how they are formed is the prime subject of my research interest and the topic of my PhD Project in the Danish school system.

Therefore, I will now discuss similarities and differences between the American way of using collaboration to reform schools from within and the Danish way of using collaboration to reform schools from within.


Creating tomorrows society – through two opposite ways!
The responsibilities put on US schools to create tomorrows society mirrors the responsibility put on Danish schools to create tomorrows society. However, the collaborative history of the two countries is very different. The result is  two opposite ways of using collaboration to create tomorrows society.
The conference showed that in US reforming schools the collaborative way primarily means a top level initiated collaboration between the teacher union president and district superintendent in the district (municipality in Denmark). For a while during the conference I was pretty confused because in Denmark collaboration is culturally embedded in the day to day relations between principals (called school leaders in Denmark) and teachers, often represented by the shop stewards. This is not the case in the US school system. Let me give an example.

Evaluation on the basis of test results is extreme in the US compared to Denmark. In the US there are two poles – úsing test results to develop teachers from within the schools or using test results to control teachers and command development from outside the schools. On the basis of test results the union presidents and district superintendents who attended the conference collaborate in order to foster development of teachers within the schools. However, it is not the individual school that facilitate the development. Instead it is a development supported, both financially, academically and organizationally, by the union and the district. One example is the Telodo School District in Ohio (50 schools). In Teledo School District the Teledo Federation of Techers teamed up with the School District to form a Reading Academy in order to meet the fourth grade reading guarantee imposed by Ohio (no student could move from fourth to fifth grade without being proficient in reading). The reading academy provides intensive, ongoing professional developments facilitated by six trained reading supervisors. They are released from their classes to work with district teachers litteracy improvements based on litteracy science results. The district and the union do not command teachers to attend the program because they want teachers who really want to change – 80 percent of eligible teachers applied the last time. The reading program is an underprogram of a national program developed and managed by the American Federation of Teachers.

I think we can learn a lot in Denmark from the collaborative schools regarding the use of test results and trained supervisors to foster teaching developments within schools. Especially in these days where development of teaching based on an evidence based approach is on the agenda in Denmark.

In order for school level collaboration to flourish, collaborative efforts and initiatives have to be established at the top level between district union leaders and superintendents. A research report written by professor, Saul Rubinstein, and PhD Student, John McCarthy from the School of Management and Labor Relations on behalf of research from the six districts attending the conference, shows that when collaboration is backed up and legitimated from the top it also flourish at the bottom between teachers and principals.

In Hillsborough school district they have had a long history of collaboration, also on the school level. As the research report states: ”Since the 1980s the district has promoted joint planning and site-based decision making through extensive teams and other collaborative structures at the district and school levels. For example, schools have School Improvement Process (SIP) Teams that focus on student performance, and School Site Steering Committees that convene with the principal to discuss issues such as the budget, best practice instruction, class size, dress code, applicant screening, teaching assignments, among others”. (McCarthy & Rubinstein 2010:18). Union president and superintendent from another district (ABC District) see themselves as ressource developers that empower teachers and principals and give them the ability to commit to collaboration through jointly formed projects monitored and maintained by the superindent and the union president.

The collaborative approach is different from the command/control approach. In the command/control districts superintendents control test results from outside the school as a basis for commanding changes within schools, often meaning sacking the bad performing teachers. One example is Washington DC where the chancellor Michell Rhee, who is known for her fearless fights with The American Federation of Teachers, sacked over 200 teachers using the criteria of bad test scores.

What is interesting is that both approaches – the collaborative approach and the command/control approach – strongly focus on the individual teacher but with two contrasting ideas of what Weber calls the persona who occupy the office as a teacher. The collaborative approach´s persona is a teacher who have a potential for change which means that the teacher wants to teach and are able to develop his or her teaching. Therefore, development programmes as the one in Toledo builds on that persona. The command/control approach´s persona, on the other hand, is a teacher who is either a good or a bad teacher. The high performing teachers should be recruited and motivated with higher salaries and the bad performing teacher, who are responsible for destroying the future of kids, should be sacked. I am not kidding! Representatives for the command/control approach, like Michel Rhee, do not believe that bad performing teachers are able to develop their teaching, at least not when they are supported by American Federation of Teachers that in their eyes only wants to secure tenure.

I can imagine that there are districts that combine these to approaches. However, the conference debate was organized arround these two poles, also mirroring a current national debate in the US in the light of a new documentary movie (by the director of Al Gores Climate Movie). It´s called “Waiting for Superman” and it is very critical towards teachers and American Federation of Teachers.

I will argue for one reason why school collaboration in the US has to emerge from the top between unions and superintendens before it can emerge from the bottom between teachers and principals. Not knowing in depth the American history of collaboration, I think, that in order for many american teachers to be open towards change they need the collaborative legitimacy created by the collaboration between district union and superintendent. That labor-management relations in schools are formed by circles of mistrust is evident. At a discussion session at the conference a superintendent from one of the attending districts explained that she and her fellow district union leader had to conceal their negotiations regarding bargaining agreements because teachers would act against it if the bargaining results was communicated openly as a collaborative result.

Eventhough the research report shows a lot of aspects of the collaboration between teachers and principals at schools, the conference did not seem to focus much on the role of the principal, not to say the role of the parents - parents were simply not mentioned or tematized! Students were mentioned and reflected upon, especially regarding the use of test results. Reforming schools in the US often means reforming the poor areas of a district with lot of low performing students who do not have the same learning possibilities as other students in other areas in the district.

The American way of reforming schools through collaboration contrast greatly with how we reform schools through collaboration in Denmark. In US they focus on collaboration initiated at the top, evaluation and development of the individual teacher and no focus on the role of the principal, parents and pupils. In Denmark the local school and the stakeholders of the schools are the catalysist for change. A recent change in the act that govern the schools mentions parents as collaborative partners in the first §, and reforms have given parents a collaborative responsibility for the learning of the pupils. One example is the student plan, which is a written plan for the student's academic and behavioral development. It acts as a basis for teachers', pupils' and parents' collaborative improvements.

Therefore, in contrast to the US, we do not have such a strong focus on the individual teacher and we do indeed include the parents and the pupils. In Denmark it is the school leader who have the responsibility for holding teachers accountable and facilitating teacher development. Teacher development is often a collaborative effort between school leader and teachers, often represented by the shop steward.

Currently, I am writing a paper about the student plan and the learning ideal it embraces. I focus on how teachers in two primary schools use the plan and how their way of using the student plan transforms the persona of the teacher from an autonomous teacher to a responsive teacher. The responsive teacher sense and react individually to pupil and parents and the responsive teacher, therefore, facilitates what I call individualized collaboration.

I will now focus on how collaboration beteween school leaders and teachers in Danish schools reform schools from within. I hope I will be able to explain the Danish context enough for my american readers to follow my argument.

I will start with a story about a recent breakdown of a national school reform partnership in Denmark. The story will display that in Denmark reforms are championed as something that should take place within the schools – bottom up so to say – and not primarly on the top level (the national and municipality level).


The school as a catalyst for economic growth
In every government rapport about reforming Danish Schools and in every government rapport about the global challenges facing Denmark schools are hightlighted as the primary catalyst for growth in the Danish Society. After the PISA testing in the 90´ties showed that Denmark was lacking behind other countries, e.g., in reading, maths and science compared to, for instance, Finland and Sweden, reforms have hauled Danish Schools. In 2004 the new center-right government in a coalition with The Socialdemocratic Party introduced national learning objectives and national tests. In 2006 they followed up with individuel student plans. The coalition saw it as urgent to create a culture of evaluation as suggested by both the OECD and the Danish Evaluation Institute. In fact it was so urgent that the traditional way of reforming Danish institutions was set aside – eventhough The Social Democratic Party was in the coalison The Danish Teacher Union was not invited. The reformprocess was more command/control than collaboration.

But then Denmark got a new prime minister.

Last year in the opening of the parlement in October the new Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, promoted yet another reform of the danish school system. This time he argued, in contrast to his predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen, for a new partnership between the government, teachers, school leaders, pupils and parents. Lars Løkke Rasmussen had taken over the position as prime minister after president Obama had armwresled with prime minister Erdogan from Turkey about who should occupy the vacant position as Secretary of NATO. Obama won and Anders Fogh Rasmussen took off to Brussels.

Not being elected by the people and being prime minister in a time of financial crises Løkke needed a new project that he as primemister could engine with both public interest and economic growth potentials. After he as minister of home affairs had reformed the municipality system and the health care system he now turned to the school system. Reforming schools he could engage the citizen (parents …who are voters) as well as putting long term growth on the agenda. The enginering blue print for reforming the Danish welfare society has been to integrate econimic growth into the welfare reforms illustrated in mottoes such as: “No welfare, without economic growth“, “We have the most expensive schoolsystem in the world – we can do better” and so forth.

Reforms were once again urgent.

Løkke formed a committee of experts, both academics and practicioners (two teachers and a school leader) that should make a 360 degree evaluation of the danish school system (because it was an expert group the teacher union was not invited). They delivered af rapport before summer 2010 and launched a website with ten recommondation for reforming schools. The relevant recommondations can be summarized into: develpments of teachers and school leaders competences, clear goals for learning and focus on schools results, more operational freedom to the municipality and the schools, and strengthening of the academic content through bigger schools

The partnership was prepared through meetings last spring – at the prime ministers residential, Marienborg – with the organizations that represents the partners (students, teachers, parents and school leaders) as well as members from the commitee. On behalf of the experts recommondations ´7 ambitious goals for a even better Folkeskole´ was formulated, mostly formulated by the government, I believe, but supported by the partners. The policy paper containing the seven goals also mention that the partners have a shared responsibility for making the goal achivement realistic. One of the seven goals is, for instance, a reading gúarantee saying that by 2015 all students should be able to read after the second grade. Other goals are that knowledge and research should play a bigger role in schools (evidencebased teaching) and that tests results should be made public.

The breakdown of a national partnership
The partnership had started. But suddenly the minister of education one Monday morning this fall – a coouple of months in the partnership – announced that the partnership had collapsed because of The Danish Teacher Unions stubborness and lack of ambitions. She supplemented - aimed at the union - that the negotiation was not a collective bargaining – the  reform was about reforming schools for the sake of pupil learning, not for the sake of the working conditions of teachers.

The union on the other hand was surpriced. Before the weekend they had sended a paper suggesting to make one of the ten goals more realistic (the 2015 goal that garentee that all students can read when they finished second grade, would be more realistic if it was year 2020) and put one goal of making test results public up for negotiation. They supported the rest of the goals. The union supplemented – aiming at the Government – that the partnership had nothing to do with a partnership when all the goals were decided and non-negotionable by one part beforehand.

But why did the partnership really breake down?

Set a side causes such as a new and unexperienced minister of education with no mandate to negotiate, with a market liberale background (not trusting unions and promoting individual freedom), and a stubborn union, I argue for a more deep rooted reason: The government and the The Danish Union of Teachers have two different ways of understanding and wanting to use collaboration as a ressource for reforming schools and that resulted in the breakdown of the partnership.

The teacher union´s collaborative rationale is collaborations as a ressource to be used at the top level between The National Teachers Union, the Danish Government and the rest of the partners. It´s a rational formed by the famous Danish bargaining system. The idea is that partners negotiate with the purpose of forming collective and obligating agreements that legitimize changes from within schools. According to this rationale the government needs the legitimacy of The National Union of Teachers in order for the individual teacher to give input to the reform at the local school.

The governments collaborative rationale, on the other hand, is collaboration as a ressource to be used at the bottom level between school leaders and teachers in schools. It´s a rational formed by the last 20 years of New Public Management reforms – delegation of operational responsibility to schools steered from a distiance through contracts, budgets, performance indicators etc. – combined with a profiliation of HR tools developed by and integrated into the Danish culture of local collaboration. The idea is that the government delegates reform responsibility to schools and they expect the schools to reform in a collaboration with teachers and parents using and developing the HR tools provided. According to this rationale the role of the national teacher union and the rest of the partners – because of their network and knowledge – is  to give input to the process of reforming, not the goals of the reform.

But why did the national partnership breakedown?

During the last ten years the Teacher Union has not been involved in school reforms. These reforms has changed the focus on historically favoured learning ideals such as Democratic Bildung to core academic disciplines and measureble goals. For many teachers, the reforms have also created a very demanding working environment resulting in stress, burnouts and early retirement. Therefore, the Teacher Union, I would argue, wanted to negotiate a realistic reform agreement that could legitimize reforms from within schools.  

The Government, on the other hand, rely on their politicy to work – they rely on local schools and municipalities to be responsible and reform in a collaboration with teachers and parents. Therefore, I would argue, that it was easy for the government to cancel the partnership because they simply don´t need the legitimacy of the National Teacher Union. They, of course, rely on their own policy to work.

I think that is the more deep rooted reason for the collapse of the partnership.

Let me elaborate on this argument.

The last 20 years policy of shifting danish governments – both the Social Democratic and Center-right governments - has been to reform the way public institutions – such as schools – are governed and organized locally. The policy has been as Pedersen and Harley (2008) has shown to delegate responsibility to local institutions and governing at the overall policies steered from a distance through activity budgets, contracts, quality rapports, key performance indicators etc. It has also been combined with a profiliation of HR techniques that give local management the tools to manage the individual relations to civil survants, e.g., appreciative talks, competence development programs, career plans, management and well-being surveys etc.

With Lars Løkke Rasmussen the New Public Management reforms culminate in his suggestion to liberate schools from bureaucratic control in return for making the schools responsible for meething new, still unknow, national goals. With that suggestion, Lars Løkke Rasmussen introduces School Performance Management as the prime mean to govern schools. In other words, the government rely on the schools to collaboratively develop their schools operations if they make themselves accountable to new national goals. This means, that the municipality and the local school have the liberty to choose how to met the national goals.

Danish school collaboration
Let us examine the collaborative choices schools have when they are obliged to met new national goals. The three collaborative choices I will suggest are formed by the last 20 years of New Public Management reforms and profiliation of HR tools developed by and integrated into the Danish culture of collaboration. The Danish Culture of collaboration is formed by 100 years of collective bargaining and has – using a phrase from the Danish professor Per Hull – ´danicized´ Scientific Management in the days of the Marshall support, the wave of Human Ressource Management in the 80ties and 90ties and the last 20 years of New Public Management reforms in Denmark.

1) The local school can chose to use the collaborative ressources embeeded in the relations with the local teacher union if that is the best practice for that school. The unionized collaboration has played a major role in many schools and still does. For instance, in many schools the shop steward function as a sparring partner for the school leader. The school leader can discuss difficult managerial issues trusting that the shop steward work for the best of the school. At many schools the shop steward is also a part of the teachers recruiting process and part of the municipality collaboration. And in all schools or clusters of small schools they have mandatory collaborative bodies (it is mandatory in every government institution) where school leaders, shop stewards and safety stewards collaborate on day to day issues such as classroom facilities, health and safety, processes regarding teachers developments and generel working conditions. 

2) The school leader can also chose to use HR tools developed and formed by the unionized collaboration. In Denmark a large proportion of workers are entitled to have a yearly talk with their manager about their work, academic and personal development and well-being. Well-being surveys are, also mandatory in all municipalities and they are often developed in collaboration with the shop stewards and local unions. These HR-tools are examples of a tools developed and legitimated by the collective bargaing system.

Schools leaders can choose to met the new national goals using the unionized collaborative resources developed through the collective bargening system, and by that follow a long tradition in Denmark. I believe that unionized collaborative reform will continue in many schools.

3) However, they can also choose to develop new collaborative approaches that builds on the relational value of social capital. I call it individualized collaboration. This approach is critical towards the idea that collaboration could only work if it builds on unionized collaborative ressources. In the first of the above two approaches the teacher is represented by the shop steward and in the second approach all teachers have the same rights as workers negotiated through the collective bargaining system. Individualized collaboration on the other hand builds on the idea that clusters of individual relations can be used for specific purposes (Hasle, Thoft E., and Olesen K.G. 2010). One example is what Charles Heckscher (2007) calls task teams which are temporarily formed teams with the specific purpose to solve a task. The team is manned with the employees and managers relevant for the specific task, often across the boundary of tenure, departments and competences. The idea behind individualized collaboration is that the use of the individual relations to teachers is legitimized by various sources, e.g., teacher competence and performance, well-being, managerial power, voluenteering, elective representation etc.  

In my PhD Project I use the analytical construct individualized collaboration that builds on social capital to empirically investigate the collaborative approches that flourish at the school level. In two primary and secondary schools, I examine the processes of social capitalization, the personas that manage these processes and the implications for school leadership, self-management and well-being. One example is the paper I am writing about the student plan. In this paper I argue that the student plan fosters individual collaboration between teachers, parents and pupils that builds on social capital.

I will end this blog with one critical comment towards the politics of the Danish Government. Relying on School Performance Management and the Danish culture of collaboration, surprisingly, an ironic dillemma emerge. The ironic dillemma is as followes: The successful collaborative culture between teachers and school leaders that ensure that teachers and school leaders can implement and develops reforms locally has been made possible as a result of the historic and legitimating role of the collective barganing system. Because of the success of the Danish collaborative bargaining system to form a local culture of collaboration that reform schools from within, the danish government does not need to bargain a collective reform agreement with The National Teacher Union in order to legitimate reform from within schools.

I do not thing that the Danish governement will admit that the local collaborative culture they rely on to reform schools from within ironically is fosted by the history of the famous danish bargaining system that they seem to opone. A critical question is: Does the politics of the Danish Government mean that they are throwing out the baby with the bath water? Can they rely on reforms to take place with out the legitimacy of The National Union of Teachers?

I will now sum up the similarities and differences between the American way of using collaboration to reform schools from within and the Danish way of using collaboration to reform schools from within.

The American way of collaboration in schools focuses on 1) collaboration initiated at the top legitimating collaboration between principals and teachers at the buttom, and 2) using collaboration to evaluate and develop the individual teacher using test results.

The Danish way of collaboration in schools focuses on 1) collaboration initiated at the local school between municipality, school leaders and teachers legitimated by unionbased collaboration and individualized collaboration that builds on social capital.

That will be all! Kristian J

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