Managing Education

Gates stated in a Wall Street Journal article that they met with “the same resistance that other sizable philanthropic efforts have encountered while trying to transform dysfunctional urban school systems run by powerful labor unions and a top-down government monopoly provider.” An attempt was made to change the system that provides education, but the system was resistant to the change.

The resulting waste of $100 Million dollars gives us an indication of the breadth of corruption in the overfall management system in this country. This corruption is obvious as the government displays its inability to decide what to do with the debt ceiling, but we also see this corruption in our education system and its inability to change.

I teach a course at Warner Pacific that deals with leading change and transformation within organizations. One of the articles that I like to have my students read deals with systems thinking and change. I try to get my students to realize that change is not a unilateral event. You are ultimately changing a system and you must take that into consideration when pursuing the change. I also try to get these graduate students to recognize that change can be viewed in two different modes.

Some changes are adaptive. In other words, they are superficial changes that do not attack the core beliefs or culture of the system. These are simple changes that most employees do not resist. While other changes are configurational. In other word the change attacks the core structure of the system, which is often related to the culture of the organization. Those changes are difficult to accomplish, take a lot of time, and are often unsuccessful. Usually, configurational changes will be successful when the system believes it needs to change. John Kotter in his work on “Leading Change” states that the number one reason that large scale change events fail is the lack of urgency. The system does not believe it needs to change, and when it does attempt to change leadership declares victory too soon and the cultural anchors that leadership have put in place to ensure the change stays in place are ignored and the system then goes back to the way it was, its point of comfort.

In both cases, the government and educational systems, there is an attempt at making large scale configurational changes to a system. In both cases they don’t believe they need to change. If change theory is correct, then both attempts will fail, and the system will stay as is. Maybe our leaders will surprise us and do the hard work needed to change these systems. If not, our bond ratings will slide, we’ll default on our loans, and our students will continue to fall behind the rest of the world. Also, if we don’t change the system we will continue to slide in world prominence, and maybe we’ll end up at the same level as Venezuela.

And that is my thought for the day!


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