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The Allure of OrderHigh Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling$
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Jal Mehta

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199942060

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199942060.001.0001

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Beyond Rationalization: Inverting the Pyramid, Remaking the Educational Sector

Beyond Rationalization: Inverting the Pyramid, Remaking the Educational Sector

(p.269) 10 Beyond Rationalization: Inverting the Pyramid, Remaking the Educational Sector
The Allure of Order

Jal Mehta

Oxford University Press

Over and over again across the 20th century and a decade into the 21st, Americans have sought to rationalize their schools, with limited results. Is there a better way? In the pages that follow, I argue that there is. At base, you could say that the entire American educational sector was put together backwards. Beginning early in the 20th century, teaching became institutionalized as a highly feminized, low-status field; universities, unwilling to associate with training low-status teachers, trained instead a set of male administrators to control and direct those teachers; failures of schools prompted additional levels of control and regulation from afar, further diminishing autonomy and making the field less attractive to talented people. Successful systems from abroad essentially do the reverse. They choose their teachers from among their most talented students; they train them extensively; they provide opportunities for them to collaborate within and across schools to improve their practice, they provide the needed external supports for them to do this work well; and they support this educational work within stronger welfare states. This is true of East Asian countries like Korea and Japan, but it is also true of non-Confucian countries like Canada and Finland. While it is not yet clear how much of this success are due to which of these factors, it is clear that many of the world’s leading countries take a fundamentally different approach than the one favored in the United States. As a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) volume sums up what it sees as the lessons from nations that lead the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings: “The education development progression is characterized by a movement from relatively low teacher quality to relatively high teacher quality; from a focus on low-level basic skills to a focus on high-level skills and creativity; from Tayloristic forms of work organization to professional forms of work organization; from primary accountability to superiors to primary accountability to one’s professional colleagues, parents and the public; and from a belief that only some students can and need to achieve high learning standards to a conviction that all students need to meet such high standards.”

Keywords:   Carnegie Foundation, Uncommon Schools, Wireless Generation, autonomy, charter networks, collaboration, data-driven instruction, human capital, learning organizations, portfolio districts, scientific management, social agencies, teacher selection

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