FIGHTING DEHUMANIZATION WITHIN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Karadimos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Action Plan

Updated September 6th, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

karadimos@mathguide.com ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

Capella University

 

 


Abstract

 

††††††††††† This action plan specifically combats dehumanization that exists within public high schools through the formation of committees and groups.Educators at all levels, under humanistic research methods, create institutions that are student-centered.

Hybrids of Kotterís Eight-Stage Process with Dolanís constant maintenance are the strategies that are suggested for long-term improvements.This is an open-ended proposition that calls for a considerable amount of effort on behalf of the implementers; however, simplified versions of the hybrid model can lead to substantive improvements.††

††††††††††† Although the work here specifically mentions the problems that exist at certain high school in Illinois, it can be used to make improvements at any school undergoing either minor or major changes, toward effective student-centered schools.

††††††††††† Schools that are currently achieving well beyond national and state averages may not find this action plan to be as valuable as schools suffering from stereotypical urban problems.It focuses on those schools that wrestle with dehumanizing standardization strategies imposed by state and national boards.

††††††††††† When status quo educational models are producing less than exemplary results, it is imperative to make changes.Creating humanistic, student-centered environments within schools heightens the probabilities for individual student success.This success translates to preparedness for post-high school demands, a foundation for lifelong achievement, and a healthy democracy.

 

 


 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

I.                  Introduction

II.                Political Environment

III.               Status Quo

IV.              Background Information

V.               Proposal

VI.              Transforming the System

VII.             Timeline

VIII.           Conclusion

IX.              Notes

X.               Resources

 

 


I.Introduction

Proponents for change within education commonly speak of our current educational institutions as factories with assembly line curricula.Even though many administrators, college professors, and educational gurus agree on this, current high schools still suffer from these early 20th century models and offer dehumanizing, often times unreal, doses of education to students on a daily basis, which must be countered (Patterson, 1987).

I teach mathematics at a certain high school and this action plan is set to solve the specific problems that exist there.The following details of the problem, methods of research, proposed solutions and resources that follow will legitimize such an action.It is my intent to also assist other schools in adopting similar strategies of those that are presented here, especially in the case of schools that are entering into major restructuring or are at least considering it.

 

II.Political Environment

Locally there are problems that result from systems centered on dehumanized education, in part due to state mandates that push local schools in certain directions.Standards imposed by the No Child Left Behind initiative for Illinois indicate 44% of its students are not meeting federal standards (Bowers, 2003).Some states are also given the authority to sanction districts and school who do not meet standards by withholding funding, revoking accreditation, reorganizing schools, and/or take over schools (Ziebarth, 2002).

According to a recent report to the State Board of Education, researchers claimed part of the reason why standards have not been raised is due to districts and schools either not knowing how to raise standards or being satisfied with current standards (Stanhope, 2003).Yet, states like Illinois will receive these studies as gospel despite the fact they erroneously set out to find connections between standards initiatives and performances while also assuming failure is based on not attaining standards.Proper research does not search for a causal relationship between standards initiatives and performances then assume unmet standards are the result of improperly implemented standards because implementation is part of the initiative itself.

The state places a considerable amount of pressure to have districts institute dehumanizing standards and the results are troubling at a certain high school.Educators are trained to treat problems but never actually treat students.As a result, the facility where I teach suffers from scheduling issues, students with no sense of direction or ability to make connections across disciplines, and poor standardized test results.Consequently, student-centered education has waned.

All of these problems can be addressed by setting educational systems to the needs of students.The following names have been given to this focus: humanistic (Huitt, 2001), student-centered, learner-centered, holistic, and constructivistic.There are strategies for developing a system into a more vibrant system geared toward students.

The school community has recently served the area by producing mechanisms that have created an educational institution more conducive to healthy change.The school's history has allowed it to become acquainted with many fact-finding, cooperative strategies, which may prove beneficial for this action.

 

 

III.Status Quo

Fighting dehumanization is not an anti-standards plan, nor is it a plan to do nothing.If we look at Illinois Standards Achievement results, we see many areas of need from ISAT and PSAE testing: 1) deficient overall eighth grade reading skills, 2) poor performance by non-Hispanic blacks and those from low-income families, 3) low overall results for the whole state (ISBE, 2003).

Heading on a path of high standards while foregoing the individuals educators serve is not progress.The Committee of Ten report of 1893 believed all students should receive the exact same rigorous curricula even though dropout rates remained high in the era.Reformers, on the other hand, sought to provide the youth with the options that come from meaningful, tailor-made curricula (Education Week, 2000).It is an old concern many modern institutions revisit over the years.

Status quo educational practice is detrimental to the well being of society.If the dichotomy of those who want to manipulate systems are allowed to battle those who want to create individual opportunities for students, then no substantive improvements will occur.This will not allow institutions to make improvements affecting dropout rates, reading comprehension, and numerous other areas of need and will negatively affect our democracy.

 

IV.Background Information

One goal is to take the existing dichotomy between manipulating systems and focusing on individuals and move the argument to a dialectic.Neither side fully encapsulates the requirements of a healthy educational ideology.One without the other would do both the individual and the system harm through stagnation, consequently spelling disaster for those students who are currently enrolled in Illinois schools and have no time to spare.

This school's educators are attempting to form a dialectic model.It has spent a considerable amount of time moving educational practices toward collectivism and has separated the school into small schools, called houses, to serve the needs of each student.This school has also acquiesced to the States demands of preparing students to pass standardized tests.The dialogue between teachers, administrators, school board members, parents and member of the community must continue to be collegial to hone the system.

 

A.Small School Theory

Small schools claim to be more humanistic.Indicators such as student attachment, persistence and performance are stronger.There also seems to be better attendance rates, lower dropout rates, and higher grade point averages (Gregory, 2000, p. 7).

Those gains have many schools scrambling to have it restructured after a small school model.However, even small school advocates like Michael Klonsky from the University of Illinois report there is no strict model for small schools, only very loose templates.This lack of structure makes the restructuring process extremely problematic and riddled with barriers.

The barriers to small schools include (1) battling the old tradition of what a high school should be, (2) lack of time, resources, and technical assistance, (3) system impediments such as laws, district policies and one-size-fits-all curricula, and (4) cost concerns (McRobbie, 2001, pp. 2-3).In fact, small schools can cost 5% more than larger schools (Fording, 2003).Small school research is not a panacea, but "a more-human scale is a potent antidote to student alienation" (McRobbie, 2001, p. 3).

 

B.Small School Practice

In practice, a certain high school has suffered from problems that have not been specifically mentioned in the research.As the traditional high school model is abandoned, a certain high school has: 1) not been able to properly place students in courses, 2) created an atmosphere lacking of intimacy, and 3) not offered electives to students.

A certain high school has not been able to appropriately place students in classes, because counselors cannot perform their duties with satisfactory results when their caseloads are abruptly changed -- a consequence of restructuring to a small-school model [see section IX. Notes].This quick change had counselors who are unfamiliar with the new students they gained and made them practically unable to determine course placement as a result of (a) summer school courses students completed right before the onset of the school year and (b) night school courses that students completed during the end of the last school year.

The result of this lack of intimacy is staggering, even though the premise of small schools is a more human-centered environment.Students become improperly placed in classes.Then, these students are eventually found and reorganized into newly created classes, sometimes happening four to six weeks after the beginning of the school year, which also disrupts the education of those who are not given new schedules.The irony of having a bureaucratic system, when a humanistic one is the goal, is disconcerting.

The second reason why student placement in courses becomes an issue is the inability to offer electives.When students are grouped in 'schools' that are small, even if these schools rest within large high schools, the difficulty in placing students in elective courses increases.The courses that may motivate students to come to school and to increase their abilities (Ziegler & Wilt, 1999) cannot be offered.The pool of students who want to take specific courses dwindles, making those courses impossible to run.

This inability to offer electives may run parallel with state standardized guidelines that indirectly model what a high school student must learn through a back-to-basics approach to education.However, this back-to-basics approach may actually be dehumanistic to many students who live in socio-economically deprived neighborhoods and who are extremely likely to be better serviced by also offering them optional non-college preparatory courses.

Other findings, such as the University of Arkansas (Barnet, Ritter, and Lucas, 2003) has found the following conclusions regarding small-schools:

 

A survey of literature on high school size reveals an optimal number of between 400 and 900 students. Schools of this size seem to deliver a diverse and rich education at a reasonable cost, when compared to schools with higher or lower numbers of students....The answer is not apparent [on what to do with very small schools], because the researchers found that school size had no clear relationship to academic achievement.

 

The difference between unchanging academic achievement made by the University of Arkansas and the higher grade point averages reported from Gregory's work might leave a skeptical mind wondering why these seemingly disjoint facts can exist in tandem.However, one can postulate that smaller environments can lead to a different opinion of student performance.

When teachers examine student performance in the classroom, they receive intimate clues regarding student ability.Teachers tend to view students in a human fashion and assess accordingly.When state standardized tests rate these same students for performance, they measure with infinitely less compassion and usually report a numeric value that points to much different kind of student.

When a teacher who intimately knows a student performs an evaluation, there may be a tendency to rate a student with more flexibility, which may allow Arkansas' findings to exist with Gregory's findings even though the two appear on the surface to be opposite in nature.

Current research remains less than conclusive regarding small schools.This makes the task of restructuring schools extremely difficult, especially when the severity of the restructuring remains high.It is quite possible that future research will indicate why it is traditional high schools kept certain long-standing principles for so long.

 

V.Proposal

There are existing deficiencies, some systemic others procedural, within a certain high school that are easily identified. This open-ended proposed action plan to bring humanism to a certain high school will address those areas of need and include counseling, teaching pedagogy, communication with state/federal agencies, curriculum, integration of technology, and discipline.

Counselors, by definition of their job titles, must help students navigate through academic waters so that students develop existing talents, gain life skills, and sometimes assist students who undergo troubling moments in their lives.It requires a great deal of interaction to carry out their job in an effective manner.†† Ensuring involvement within education is essential (ASCA, 1998) and could be done by having each student create and present a four-year plan, detailing interests and goals that lead to specific courses.As a basic counselor duty to be done before each school year, counselors must review recent courses taken by students they supervise to properly place students in courses.

Our curriculum director could confront the dehumanization issue with a double strategy affecting pedagogy.Since students at the high school are deficient with reading and writing, the director could encourage teachers to create project-based, interdisciplinary assignments for each course; this would also allow us to overcome another problem our students face, which is their inability to acquire a collective, interwoven framework to house the skills and information they receive.The second prong would be to offer professional development on the Socratic Method and the Montessori Method.It would allow meaningful, humanistic, dialogue between students and teachers (Sanford, 2003) and have teachers create situations where students can self-teach within rich environments (Woolf).

State boards of education across the nation should receive feedback concerning the mandates they have enacted on local districts and schools regarding standards-based testing.Current evaluation of student performance in high school forces educational institutions to forcibly adopt a teach-to-the-test mentality.Consequently, schools serving populations that suffer from low reading and writing abilities must gear curriculum that disenfranchises career and technical-bound students by not offering electives.Standardized tests do not specifically target information learned in electives courses; therefore, core classes, such as math, English, and science, replace electives.

In order to encourage districts and schools to offer electives while also meeting state mandates, electives courses can be more rigorous.They could be made to incorporate meaningful dialogue between students in the form of presentations.They could promote higher order thinking and problem solving strategies through multi-step projects.They could also include the use of modern office software, such as word processing, spreadsheets, web design, power point, as well as other packages used in business and other sectors of society.

The arbiters of discipline within this high school are not effectively consequencing students.Students who frequently arrive late to class or break similarly minor school policies are eventually given in-school detentions.These students miss classes, disabling them from learning.It may be more educationally sound to have students serve Saturday detentions, do community service, or perform other tasks that do not threaten their instructional time.

The other deficient areas that are not as easily identified (and even within the areas mentioned above that still remain undetected by the author) will require a group effort to overcome.The details of those efforts will be mentioned in the next section.

 

VI.Transforming the System

Long ago, educational theorists believed educational systems should reflect the democratic society envisioned by the Founding Fathers; consequently, schools reflect such a democracy.There is a considerable amount of latitude given to teachers not shared by other professionals.Delivering information to students, many times of a politically sensitive nature, requires teachers to operate under political asylum.Hence, educational institutions have developed complicated teacher-management rules.

This special environment, although unique among many professional environments, is the industry standard within school districts across the nation.School districts value open communication, reflection, and input.Some districts place teachers within teams to initiate and manage the change process. Teams are more flexible than larger organizational groupings because they can be more quickly assembled, deployed, refocused, and disbanded, usually in ways that enhance rather than disrupt more permanent structures and processes (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993).

This action plan relies on the use of a participatory research model (Parks, 1993).It will allow those who are most closely involved to be the researchers, which is a common method for instituting change within educational facilities.This is the reason educational institutions often identify and pursue change through long standing committees that routinely handle situations as they arise.

In fact one approach to participatory research, called co-operative inquiry, is humanistic in its origins.There are four phases of co-operative inquiry: 1) agree upon an area in need and adopt a research proposition, 2) initiate an agreed course of action while recording data, 3) develop reflective thoughts concerning the gathered data, and 4) researchers conclude on the effectiveness of the original proposition and revisit it if necessary (Reason, 2000).

The district has committees and groups in place that can serve as initial starting points for this action research.Ed Council, two School Improvement Planning Committees, departments by academic subject, and two Deans Advisory Committees can assist with the co-operative inquiry.There may be a need to collect members of the school community to form new sub-groups if the long-standing committees mentioned above reflect disproportionate representation of the entire educational community (to be determined consensually).

Considering large schools like this certain school, numerous committees are inevitable and committee management, communication, and measuring progress within the action plan become difficult.It will be necessary to multilaterally launch into co-operative inquiry within each committee.A framework for communication must be established early on in the process along with a clear understanding of the measuring tools that will be used to gauge success of propositions.

Some measuring tools could include less dropouts, students doing better on standardized tests, and no need to form new classes after the beginning of the semester.The specific tools would be agreed upon by the members of the institution in this open-ended mode of inquiry.

Committees must establish sets of ground rules before moving into co-operative inquiry.Small details concerning length of discussion, methods of conflict management, what indicates consensus, and so on need to be established to create a healthy basis for productive research.Roberts Rules of Order (Robert, 1915) usually suffices but is extremely cumbersome.

Communication between groups and committees is essential for successful research.Periodically, groups need to provide updates.Representatives must cross-articulate so that the focus of one group can digest the direction of the change process.For instance, if it is decided to have the School Improvement Committees (SIP) steer the co-operative inquiry, then tasks being conducted by the Educational Council must agree with those done by all academic departments.The orchestra of events must unfold in such a way that all participants are in tandem and this requires numerous checks to occur within and throughout the educational institution.

Measuring progress is the hardest facet of the process to determine.There are no clear-cut rules concerning achievement, especially within education where the product -- the student -- is a constant variable.Like the foundation made for groups to exist within the onset of co-operative inquiry, indicators should be predetermined and based upon the specific parameters within each area undergoing change.

In order to specifically manage co-operative inquiry at this school for large-scale changes, the Eight-Stage Process (Kotter, 1996) would be an effective beginning point.Stage one would use a faculty meeting to share test scores of previous years, state requirements and possibly failure rates to motivate educators for a need to improve.Stage two would require the SIP Committees to be the focal point of the change process and address the easily recognized, general problem areas throughout the entire system. Stage three would continue with SIP, revisiting vision statements and goals.Stage four would entail having the results of stages 1-4 presented at a faculty meeting and smaller department meetings.

As we enter broader-based changes, we would abandon the SIP Committee as the focal point and use other groups.Stage five would enable the Educational Council to lead curriculum changes, like creating courses, modifying existing courses, and creating meaningful staff development for the faculty.This stage also includes alterations on discipline by the Deans Advisory Committees and other groups within the community.The initial work done within stage five will lead to short-term gains for stage 6.

As we approach fundamental change within the school and district, we must call the assistance of the Superintendent, the School Board and the Union.Stage seven requires a consolidation of change within the community to include but not limit spin-off transformations as they take a life of their own.This stage is legal and is extremely detailed.Work done in stage seven becomes finalized after discussion with the whole community within stage eight.The last stage promotes continued progress for the future and is in itself long-range.

While the Eight-Stage Process is being initiated, Dolanís model can also be implemented.Dolanís Systemic Model requires constant maintenance and communication after year one.He believes each year should begin with a look at old indicators, adding new measuring devices (meaning indicators as well), and begin a self-auditing process.At the completion of each year there should be a retreat, discussion, preparation for a report card, and an evaluation of the years activities and changes.It is an open model with no clearly defined boundaries.

 

VII.Timeline

There are two different, non-disjoint avenues for this co-operative inquiry.If a long-range change to the educational system is the goal, the system can undergo routine, yet fundamental, changes for continued success later on during the first year.All the proposed changes mentioned within section V above (save for the creation/alteration of existing courses) could be accomplished within that year.Team building, small diagnostic changes, and a plan for experimentation can be achieved (Dolan, 1994).

The models studied for this action research differ after the first year.Kotters Eight-Stage Process would have large-scale changes happening later in the change process.Dolanís Systemic Model is an ongoing one with no clearly defined ending.He would no doubt attribute it to a life metaphor.

After year number one, Kotter's model would pick up with stage six.It appears that stage seven is as lengthy as stage six, being that involves hiring practices, entertaining and implementing new themes, and a change of events.Stage eight is one that leads to contract negotiations that would appear to be late by Dolanís vision for change.

The tempo for change would have to be dependant on the environment.One could develop long-range goals for change; however, the change agents and community in general have to be receptive and able to change for speedy results to happen under mutually beneficial conditions.The benefits would have to be evident from student results, teacher acceptance, and administratorsí ability to hold vision and lead.†† There are too many invisible variables to predict when calculating strict timetables concerning fundamental or even simple long-range plans.

 

VIII.Conclusion

The district has experience with the change process, probably making it a body that is receptive to change.Committees have brainstormed issues and have done fact-finding expeditions by visiting other districts and university think-tanks.Leaders have brought in Educational gurus, like Patrick Dolan, have been brought in to foster change.

It is evident that educators and the entire community desire a humanistic system.There are numerous participants in the system who put in far greater time than their paychecks report.When these same leaders, teachers and sometimes parents create procedures that give rise to dehumanistic environments, the procedures must be identified and changed.

Change has been a painful but necessary process that has given rise to many results.The countless hours spent in committees, union negotiations hearings, grievance meetings and so forth, although absolutely necessary, is hard to handle at times.However, when educators review the true intended targets of these meetings, sometimes lucky enough to witness student revelation and revolutions to the industry, it makes the change process worthwhile.

††††††††††† Re-examining the status quo argument from section III tells us the importance of action.Inaction breeds a spiral of consequences leading toward dehumanization, and ultimately contributes to the decline of student learning.This lack of learning may equally well result in a lack of success in life, affecting the strength of our democracy and way of life.We are all tied to each other and as educators we have the ability to influence the greatest degree of long-lasting change.Fighting dehumanization is a logical means toward a desired end.

 

IX.Notes

††††††††††† The school must contend with scheduling problems for a number of reasons that appear to be out of the control of educators in the district.Students register late because: a) students look to Chicago Public Schools for start-up times, which are different from suburban times, b) the mobility rate is high, which forces predictability and scheduling projections to have low confidence levels.

 

X. Reference List

The American School Counselor Association [ASCA] (1998). Ethical Standards for School Counselors [On-Line] Retrieved October 28th, 2003 from:http://www.schoolcounselor.org/content.cfm?L1=12&L2=2

 

Barnet, Ritter, & Lucas (2003). Small Schools May Be Considered For Consolidation, But Educational Benefits Remain Unclear.University of Arkansas Archives. Retrieved October 18th, 2003 from: http://advancement.uark.edu/news/NEWS_ARCHIVES/SEP03/CONSOLID_sr.html

 

Bowers, C. (2003). Too Many Kids Left Behind.CBS News [On-Line], Retrieved on November 6th,2003 from: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/11/05/eveningnews/main582121.shtml

 

Dolan, P. (1994). Chapter 12: The School as Learner - The Site Council: A Primer On Systemic Change.In Restructuring Our Schools: Systems and Organizations

 

Education Week. (2000). Lessons of a Century: A Nations Schools Come of Age. Educational Projects in Education.

 

Fording, L. (2003). Thinking Small: Many large urban public high schools are failing their students. Is downsizing the answer? MSNBC News Article. Retrieved on October 18th, 2003 from: http://www.msnbc.com/news/970203.asp

 

Gregory, T. (2000). School Reform and the No-Man's Land of High School Size. Small Schools Project Archive. Retrieved on October 17th, 2003 from: http://www.smallschoolsproject.org/articles/download/gregory.pdf

 

Huitt, W. (2001). Humanism and Open Education [On-Line] Retrieved October 28th, 2003 from: http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/affsys/humed.html

 

ISBE. (2003). Illinois Standards Achievement Test. Illinois State Board of Education [On-Line] Retrieved October 28th, 2003 from: http://www.isbe.net./news/2003/isat_charts.pdf

 

Katzenbach, J. & Smith, D. (1993). The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High Performance Organization. McKinsey & Company, Inc.

 

Kotter, J. (1996). Chapter 2: Successful Change and the Force that Drives It.In Leading Change: Harvard Business School Press.

 

McRobbie, J. (2001). Are Small Schools Better?: School Size Considerations for Safety & Learning. WestEd Resources. Retrieved on October 18th, 2003 from: http://www.wested.org/online_pubs/po-01-03.pdf

 

Patterson, C. (1987). What Has Happened to Humanistic Education? Michigan Journal of Counseling and Development [On-Line], 8-10. Retrieved October 28th, 2003 from: http://www.sageofasheville.com/pub_downloads/WHAT_HAS_HAPPENED_TO_HUMANISTIC_EDUCATION.pdf

 

Park, P. (1993). What Is Participatory Research?: A Theoretical and Methodological Perspective. In Voices of Change: Bergin Garvey.

 

Reason, P. (2000). Chapter 20: Three approaches to participative inquiry. In Handbook of qualitative research: Sage Publications.

 

Robert, H. (1915). Robert's Rules of Order Revised [On-Line], Retrieved on November 9th, 2003 from: http://www.robertsrules.org/rror--00.htm

 

Sanford, J. (2003). Scholar discusses educational benefits of Socratic method.Stanford University News Service [On-Line] Retrieved October 28th, 2003 from: http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/pr/03/socratic528.html

 

Stanhope, G. (2002). Report to the State Board of Education: Evaluation of the Implementation of Illinois Learning Standards, Year-Four Report.Illinois State Board of Education [On-Line], Retrieved on November 1st, 2003 from: http://www.isbe.state.il.us/ils/pdfs/ilssumrecom.pdf

 

Woolf, L. (n.d.). Maria Montessori. [On-Line], Retrieved on November 8th, 2003 from: http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/montessori2.html

 

Ziebarth, T. (2002). Rewards and Sanctions for School Districts and Schools.ECS [On-Line], Retrieved on November 6th, 2003 from: http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/18/24/1824.htm

 

Ziegler, W & Wilt, A (1999). Bringing the world to the high school classroom USA Today Article. Retrieved on October 16th, 2003 from: http://www.usatodaysecure.com/ideas/idea5.cfm