The Value of Central Leadership and Service Capacity at the State or National Level

by Merle Allen

Public education has been unable to achieve substantive reform because it is so thoroughly locked into primitive structures and operations.  The last two centuries have seen dramatic improvement in productivity in most large organizations in the developed world.  The rapid increase in information and knowledge in scientific and technological applications has had a profound effect on the way most people live on this planet. The information and knowledge revolutions have opened the way for achieving dramatic gains in performance.  For education to benefit, it will be necessary to find a way to successfully upgrade education's primitive structure.

The lack of a modern system of education places students in static, isolated classroom groups in which too many students are forced to spend hundreds of hours each year enduring instruction inappropriate to their needs. These conditions continue year after year because the primitive structure of education as an institution has no way to correct itself.

Teachers are trapped in generic work assignments. An accurate job description for teachers on the first day of their career would still accurately define their task on the last day on the job before retirement. Unless teachers leave teaching to go into administration, there are few opportunities for advancement and virtually no opportunities to develop specialized skills or take part in a  coordinated supportive infrastructure that can apply varied skills for the benefit of all students. Education's primitive structure, in which almost all teachers do virtually the same work, violates the fundamental principles of management on which the modern organization of specialists is based. The lack of a comprehensive system prevents the best use of people and technology toward achieving desired mission objectives. With no comprehensive system in which educators can become effective specialized subsystems, they become limited in their power to contribute to the sustained success of all students. The more powerful technologies simply don't fit into primitive structures. In the automotive and aircraft industry, for example, it is typical for as many as 100 separate businesses and specialties to serve as subsystems within the virtual organization created to design, test, improve, and support the final product. 

Perhaps the best illustration of the problems created by education's primitive structure is seen in our schools of education. They must prepare students for the positions that now exist in the schools.  It would seem totally inconsistent for them to prepare educators to work in a modern organization of specialists because no such public educational organization now exists.  It would also seem impractical for graduate schools to prepare educators to perform as members of a comprehensive management team with major responsibility for planning and organizing, or when necessary re-engineering the organization to make it more proficient, because the means to apply those skills and understandings are currently not available.  It would seem illogical to teach prospective educators about principles of management and the major problems that arise when those principles are not respected in the structure and operations of an organization because individual educators are not be able to currently do much about them. It may, however, bring to greater consciousness the urgent need to reform today's outdated, primitive approach to education.

At the very least, it would be important to establish a non-profit corporate body without line authority to serve a central intelligence function for education as a national or state whole to provide the service and leadership needed to support the transition of public education from an ineffective primitive structure to a modern system. It is easy to find good examples of effective modern systems operations and of a central intelligence that can guide its success. The dramatic improvements in productivity in business and industry all testify to the effectiveness of systems management in organizations both private and public. They have been able to capitalized on the remarkable tools and principles of the knowledge revolutions. On the other hand, public education has continued to perform at levels more consistent with the 19th century.

Peter Drucker has been a master at communicating the essence of management and the systems approach to getting things done. 

Technology is now science based. Its method must become systematic research. It has emerged in the 20th century as central to war and peace and in a few decades remade man's way of life all over the globe. It has become the battering ram which breaks through even the stoutest ramparts of tradition and habit... p. 68-9.

The simplicity and the interactive nature of the forces that resulted in the dramatic improvements in productivity in business and industry are further described by Drucker: 

"This overall change in the nature of technological work during this century has three separate though closely related aspects: 

(1) structural changes- professionalization, specialization, and institutionalization of technological work; 

(2) changes in methods- the new relationship between technology an science; the emergence of systematic research; and the new concept of innovation; and 

(3) the (systems approach). Each of these is an aspect of the same fundamental tend. Technology has become what it never was before; an organized and systematic discipline." p. 55.

Drucker, perhaps the most respected management theorist today, emphasizes a series of key transformations that developed as part of the knowledge revolutions resulting in greatly boosted performance. He first points to structural changes that were important. He identifies professionalization, specialization, and institutionalization as necessary elements to improve productivity of an organization.  He suggests a more scientific approach to change that recognizes the relationship between technology and science. He shows the need for organized research to be considered along with engineering design and reorganization. He stresses the importance of an effective management operation as a key component in the systems approach to improvement in process and product.  He recognizes the need for a more comprehensive approach to redesign and reorganization by considering technological innovation as a primary tool for getting things done.  He sees these elements as a part of a whole making a comprehensive management team essential.  When we consider the fact that public education is essentially an unmanaged institution with administrators limited to matters secondary to production management, his reference to these factors coming together should be of great significance to educators and all others with an intense interest in achieving substantive reform in public education.

At a hearing before the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, technological futurists spoke of some of the dramatic effects that could one day come to our best classrooms. 

"Teachers will be guides, helping students teach themselves, rather than figures at the front of a room imparting facts, said Alan Kay who helped develop the Macintosh computer. 

Papert, a pioneer in artificial intelligence who directs learning research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 's Media Lab, said to lawmakers, "We're putting computers into a school system that was developed in an entirely different epoch.

This is a major point. Before technology can dramatically impact education, both structure and operations must be redesigned and implemented. The current educational structure violates fundamental principles of organization that blocks the effective use of technology. The present division of labor, another name for structure, maximizes workload, increases costs, and prevents technology from making significant contributions. Technology, so far, has had a minimal impact on teaching and learning. The reason is that the structure and operations in our schools are little changed from the traditional practices that came historically more by chance than design. The loss to education as an institution, educators, and students is mind-boggling.

It doesn't work to put computers into a system that was developed in an entirely different epic, but that is exactly what we have been doing.  Most of the advantages that are accessible when the computer becomes an interactive component in modern systems cannot be attained in a primitive organization no matter how many computers may be provided. For educational reform to be substantive, it will be necessary for a management team to lead a transition from the primitive structure to a modern comprehensive educational system that improves the effectiveness of teaching and direction of learning activities. The changes involved in such a transition are far too wholistic for them to be accomplished by individual teachers working in isolation. Clearly, there is a need for management responsibility.

The lack of a comprehensive management team in public education creates a special problem for educators who search current literature relating to systems thinking, systems analysis, and new developments in management science.  Books written primarily for modern business and industry make an assumption that the management function with a direct relationship to production is already principle based and well along in its development. No such assumption would be appropriate for teachers, administrators, and others employed in our public schools.

The overall trends Peter Drucker has described as a more scientific and systematic approach to technology is based on an application of the organismic principle of the whole which holds that the whole should be greater than the sum of the parts.  These developments outside of education have important implications for educational reform, especially the need of creating an organismic (central intelligence) service and leadership capacity at all levels of management within public education as an institution. Education is currently disempowered because it is currently unable to act as an institution of the whole.  It is lost in a sea of atomistic bits and piece, the antithesis of a modern system. It suffers from a primitive structure with its primary load assigned to fragmented, uncoordinated microsystems of more than one million comparatively isolated teachers. Because of this, the whole in education today is not greater than the sum of the parts.

Drucker's comments directed specifically to the business enterprise reveal the need for change in the structure and operations of public education.  Many businesses could be defined as systems of the highest order.  Education, on the other hand, must look to this idea as a model yet to be achieved.

However, if there is one fundamental insight underlying all management science, it is that the business enterprise is a system of the highest order; a system of (parts) of which are human beings contributing voluntarily of their knowledge, skill, and dedication to a joint venture. And one thing characterizes all genuine systems, whether they be mechanical like the control of a missile, biological like a tree, or social like a business enterprise; its interdependence, the whole of a system is not necessarily improved if one particular function or part is improved or made more efficient. In fact, the system may well be damaged thereby, or even destroyed. In some cases the best way to strengthen a system may be to weaken a part to make it less precise or less efficient. For what matters in any system is the performance of the whole; this is the result of growth and dynamic balance, adjustment, and integration rather than of mere technical efficiency.  (Drucker, p  )

The need for a central leadership and service capacity is of such great importance in modern management operations that many organizations which already have a relatively strong central unit have found it worthwhile further to extend the application of this principle still further. Johnson, Kast and Rozenwieg wrote of it in The Theory and Management of Systems:

With the advent of newer, more complex programs, military services, other government agencies, and private companies have had to adapt their organizational structures to augment traditional arrangements. Pressures of technological innovations and time requirements have made it necessary to establish centralized management agencies, such as systems management, program management, weapon systems management, and project management.  Although there are some differences in these terms and their meanings, they have a thread of commonality -- the integrative management of a specific program on a systems basis (p. 137)

The experience in the military has a special significance in the direction of learning. There are many ways that the development of weapons as integrated systems as opposed to separate devices has empowered our military forces. One of the most significant relates to targeting. Smart bombs and missile systems are hundreds of times more accurate than the saturation bombs that played so prominently in World War II. In Desert Storm we watched amazed at their accuracy.

Public education makes virtually no provision whatsoever to the performance of the whole and certainly does not target its resources to fit individual needs.  Each classroom is pretty much on its own. The curriculum is artificially fragmented to fit an inflexible grade class schedule.  Rather than learning to a point of understanding and mastery, students suffer a barrage of information coming in bits and pieces whether they are ready or not to fit them into previous learning.

Today, almost everything depends on the teacher.  That is why many parents will fight to get one teacher rather than another for their children. They realize there are great differences in the quality of education available in different classrooms. Administrators play almost no production management role. Teachers are assigned almost total responsibility for the achievement of the students in their classrooms, but are given little support in doing so. They work in a context too narrow to have any chance of taking the kind of action required to develop a comprehensive system that could maximize the impact of powerful technologies and needed specialists.  Teachers today try to work harder in order to get more done, but they are in no position to move the resources required for them to work smarter.  That is a responsibility for a management team that does not currently exist. 

Technology has not become the systematic discipline in education it needs because the structure itself is not systematic and no one holds a clearly defined responsibility to make it so. It is not reasonable to expect such work to be done by one million comparatively isolated teachers. Teachers are already overloaded with public education's primary load teaching and the direction of learning. Even if it were a reasonable assignment for them, they work in too narrow a context and do not have the power to move the needed resources to make the transition from an ineffective primitive operation to a highly proficient and comprehensive system. Teachers do not have the resources, scope of authority, time or the expertise required to deal with some of the most helpful things that could and should be done. Inadequate methods consume dollars at a prodigious rate and preclude the development and use of the most promising solutions. While the one room shop is a museum piece with little of its methods still in operation, the one room school syndrome is much in evidence in today's classrooms.

Education as an institution needs to develop a central organismic service and leadership capacity.  Because we value local control, it should be based on some form of the modern corporation that can act as a service to local school units without the authority or mission to tell local units what to do. This nonprofit corporation could be set up to act in the interest of public education as whole and be under the direction of an elected board representing a variety interests and responsibilities in public education.  This body would play a role comparable to that played by the modern corporation in business and industry.  Using a modern approach to management, it would not require the power of command. Rather it would function more as a set of associates to provide services. Its purpose would be to make it possible for public education to bring together the resources required to make the transition from a primitive structure to a modern principle-based system.