Chancellor Bruce Leslie opines about ‘trust’

Back in November 2013, Chancellor Bruce Leslie wrote a blog post called “It’s a Matter of Trust.” In it he promulgates the myth which many business-minded leaders espouse — that our educational system is failing and that educators have lost the public’s trust. Never mind any evidence to the contrary, only point to the graduation statistics which do not tell the entire story of our students.

The last paragraph of his post clearly points in the direction he believes is best for the Alamo Colleges:

Community colleges especially must create solutions that focus on our customers’ and regain our stakeholders’ trust. This requires transition to high performance organizations rather than attempt to sustain the mini-university model after which we have been modeled. We’ve branded community colleges as rapidly responsive and stakeholder focused. Yet, the imperatives of “the way we’ve always done things” continue to restrict our responsiveness and push costs higher. Our levels of student dropouts and lack of effective student-focused systems too often result in students floundering. We then lose the student’s trust and that of their families, employers and the taxpayers who support us. Trust must be earned and educators at all levels must appreciate our collective responsibility to rise above our internal political issues and focus all our efforts on student success.
But what exactly is “student success?” How do we define it? Measure it? Repeat it? Ask any administrator, teacher, or student and the answer will be different. Education is not in the business of making widgets. We are engaged in the very messy process of teaching and learning. Chancellor Bruce Leslie’s academic decisions seem to be largely based not on hard research, but on blog posts, WSJ articles, and corporate-backed authors. Success is not only measured in graduation rates and hand-selected metrics which make us “look good” to outsiders. For instance, has Bruce Leslie ever talked to employees at our writing centers to understand the intense learning process our students go through when writing their first college-level paper? What about the students who make one letter grade higher on their research project because they attended a library instruction class? Where do these success stories fit into his success metrics?
And in spite of his students-as-customers rhetoric, Chancellor Bruce Leslie’s recent actions regarding online textbooks and the EDUC 1300 course are more closely reflective of the bar sign in Robert Rodriguez’s movie Desperado:

But let’s look more closely at one sentence from the quoted paragraph above. Chancellor Bruce Leslie suggests how we can regain stakeholder trust:

This requires transition to high performance organizations rather than attempt to sustain the mini-university model after which we have been modeled.

So rather than try to identify best practices and make what we have better, simply throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Bill Moyers recently interviewed fellow Texan Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University and education historian. Here’s the introduction to their discussion:

Public education is becoming big business as bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity investors are entering what they consider to be an “emerging market.” As Rupert Murdoch put it after purchasing an education technology company, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone.”

One could extend that corporate dream to higher education as well. Chancellor Bruce Leslie’s push to privatize the curriculum of one course (EDUC 1300 partnership with FranklinCovey) could very well lead to privatizing other course curricula. Why not? After all, we can’t keep doing what we’ve always done such as letting faculty take the lead in developing for and delivering curriculum to students.

But is our current system failing? Do we need reform? From Diane Ravitch’s “Public Education: Who Are the Reformers:”

The corporate reform movement has a well- honed message: We are the reformers. We have solutions. The public schools are failing. The public schools are in decline. The public schools don’t work. The public schools are obsolete and broken. We want to innovate. We know how to fix schools. We know how to close the achievement gap. We are leading the civil rights movement of our era. We want a great teacher in every classroom. Class size doesn’t matter. Teachers should be paid more if their students get higher scores. They should be fi red if their students don’t get higher scores. Teachers should have their seniority and tenure stripped from them because those things protect bad teachers. Bad teachers cause the achievement gap. Great teachers close the achievement gap. Teachers’ unions are greedy and don’t care about children. People who draw attention to poverty are just making excuses for bad teachers and failing public schools. Those who don’t agree with our strategies are defenders of the status quo. They have no solutions. We have solutions. We know what works. Testing works. Accountability works. Privately managed charter schools work. Closing schools with low test scores works. Paying bonuses to teachers to get higher scores works. Online instruction works. Replacing teachers with online instruction not only works but cuts costs while providing profits to edu-entrepreneurs who will spur further innovation.

It is a seductive message because it offers hope that someone knows how to fix difficult problems. They claim they not only know how to do it but are doing it. They express their message with clarity and certainty. Their message resonates with the major media and with the most powerful people in our society: billionaires, corporate executives, the leaders of major foundations, the president of the United States, the US secretary of education, Wall Street hedge fund managers, pundits and think tank opinion makers.

As educators, we are always looking for new ways to improve the teaching and learning process with our students. We move slowly and deliberately amongst ourselves because we want to be absolutely sure something works at a smaller scale before implementing it across the board. But this process is simply too slow for Chancellor Bruce Leslie and the stakeholders who choose to believe what is simple — that our education system is broken and failing.

To suggest fast and easy fixes (single textbooks, etextbooks, mandatory soft skills class) for complicated issues (preparation, poverty) may seem revolutionary to those who mean well and are eager to help, but these deciders are invariably so removed from the student experience that their decisions turn out to be ill-conceived and harmful to the educational process.

Faster, cheaper, better. Pick two. If anyone is promising all three, they are probably a corporation.

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