Risk And Stakes

That the current effort to improve and reform American schools has made some mistakes is hardly remarkable – history teaches us not to expect anything different from a two decade plus effort to tackle a complicated social problem and it always looks easier from the stands. More interesting are particular missteps, whether they could be avoided, and how to address them.

One that I believe has not gotten sufficient attention in the education context is the question or risk or stakes and what it means for people affected by various changes. It’s a piece of the larger issue of social and economic divergence in this country.  When you spend time in a place like the Bay Area in California its impossible not to notice the difference in the culture toward work, institutions, and personal efficacy relative to other parts of the country and other industries. It’s not merely anecdotal. Surveys show that workers there are much more comfortable with creative destruction, risks, and losing or leaving their job at any point.  An Accenture survey last year, for instance, found that almost 40 percent of Silicon Valley workers said they would leave their job “tomorrow” if they were upset with their company.  Only one in four workers nationally say the same thing.  Even fewer would say that in education where job security trumps many other values and priories in the organization of school systems. To some extent reasonable people can disagree about whether this state of affairs is good, bad, or mixed. But it’s not debatable whether underlying personal economics and competitive job skills play a role.

Have education reformers been as attuned to risk and what it means on an individual level as they should be?  And if not, why?

Here’s one theory: For many people in the reform world risk is real but also buffered.  Yes, there are plenty of people in the reform world who grew up in challenging circumstances with few material resources, we have some our team at Bellwether and they’re all around the country in various education roles. Many more than you’d know from the rhetoric of critics. But, given the demographics of college-going in this country, unsurprisingly many more grew up comfortable.  Those circumstances will cause you to look at risk differently. Be honest, there is an enormous difference between taking a risk when the cost of absolute failure is returning to your parents garage with your tail between your legs and taking a risk when the cost for you or your family could be economic catastrophe. The informal upper-middle class social insurance that exists in this country is a powerful enabler.

Extend this to school systems where people are being exhorted to take more risks, be comfortable with less job security, and walk a higher risk/reward professional tightrope and you can see how those issues might be perceived differently depending on where someone is in life. Recognizing this is not a reason not to transform our educational system – which plays no small role in perpetuating material insecurity for many Americans – but it is a reason to be attentive to what disruption and adverse consequences mean and how they’re perceived by different stakeholders.  It’s also an argument for policies that balance risk with reward.  In D.C., for example, teachers could chose a higher risk evaluation system but it also came with substantially higher pay.

All this is not dissimilar to trade, a policy with macro benefits but acute adverse consequences for some individuals that a good society should seek to ameliorate. So we can’t stand still or fail to try to restore some balance between adult and child interests in the school system. Today’s state of affairs in the education sector is obviously untenable for the country. It is, though, worth pausing when you hear someone calling for more risk taking without an accompanying discussion of what those risks will mean to those ill-prepared to bear them and what can reasonably be done about that.

3 Responses to “Risk And Stakes”

  1. Bill Jones Says:

    hat the current effort to improve and reform American schools has made some mistakes is hardly remarkable

    Smarmy contrition and conceit from our edu-leaders.

    Those in TFA have career path that has them in the classroom for only two years. I do not mean to criticize them, but why is their hitch so short? Does it have anything to do with recruitment.

    And if innovation implies risk and a reduced reward “profile”, a stupid stilted way to put it, then why does it NOT apply to R and his posse and all of the edu-reformers? Why are the high stakes only limited to teachers? And if they assume that risk, then why is their pay so damn low compared to R and his posse of reformers.

    The free market economics of this issue DO NOT MAKE SENSE. No amount of fancy verbal gloss can change that. Folks are rational: Reduced rewards and heightened penalties and increased risk DO NOT incentivize workers.

    The argument can easily be made that the direction of the edu-reform movement may NOT attract the best and brightest to the classrooms. In fact, we are NOT getting the best math and science folks. It is NOT happening.

    So, what do we make of this article?

  2. Bill Jones Says:

    Hmmn…..

    John Deasy failed without question. In order to save face, he offered to step down. Of course, taxpayers would buy out his remaining years on contract, and he would be offered a NEGOITIATED GOLDEN PARACHUTE.

    Most do not know that high level school administrators have wage CONTRACTS that guarantee a certain number of years of high compensation AND a guarantee of an out the door golden parachute.
    These contracts are negotiated by their attorneys.

    Contrast that with teachers that use a cheaper alternative: A union.

    Why the contradiction?

    I wonder how R and the entire edu-reform movement can tie their performance to student performance? What is it that they do they really improves the educational outcomes and job prospects for the inner city youth of LA? I have not heard that yet.

    One thing has not changed about education: The explosive growth in layers of upper management who are anonymous and entirely unaccountable to the public.

  3. James Ramsey Says:

    University Faculty Expels Straight “A” Grad Student for Use of Critical Thinking.

    Article by Rev. James Ramsey

    I used to believe that American public universities were rock-solid bastions of intellectual freedom dedicated to the advancement of knowledge. Not any more. After two years of fruitless struggle against a university faculty determined to avoid dialogue and impose a “one-size-fits-all” agenda on mature and aspiring students, I have learned otherwise. …The hard way.

    On July 8th, 2013, I was expelled from my degree program at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, (UTC), by the School Psychology program faculty despite having completed 15 courses, (over three-quarters of the required coursework), with a cumulative 3.9 GPA, (and at the cost of around $60,000 plus, of investment and student loans in which I would be in debt for, into that education). My crime you ask? It is ultimately connected to my ability and inclination to think critically and creatively, and on occasion, even ask questions. In the face of intense pressure to conform my thinking to established patterns,
    I had the audacity to think. …(Sometimes outside ‘the box’ and /or to explore all possibilities.)

    In 2010 at the age of 49, having already earned a Masters Degree, (from the same University), and following a successful 10-year career as a clinical mental health counselor, I decided to return to UTC to pursue a new career in school psychology.
    I was accepted into the program on the basis of prior coursework and two previous degrees from the same institution, along with strong recommendations from previous UTC professors. There was nothing in my academic or professional background to indicate that I had anything but a bright future ahead in my newly chosen profession.

    I began the School Psychology program with great enthusiasm; looking forward to a fulfilling learning experience and making a worthwhile intellectual contribution to the program.
    I was progressing well with my studies, when nine months into the program I received an e-mail notification from the school’s Psychology Program Director, Dr. Pamela Guess.
    The e-mail contained a totally unexpected negative evaluation from faculty members in the same program. She had scheduled a meeting, (from which I had to miss work to attend), for the next day.
    When I attended this meeting, present were 2 other professors as well as Dr. Guess.
    As I then would learn, this was something referred to as a “professional fitness review.”

    In it, the program faculty members alleged that ‘the philosophical views’ I expressed in class and in response to course assignments were “incompatible” with those of a future school psychologist. More puzzling still was the assertion that I had been “unmindful” of the “impact” the sharing of my views would have on my fellow students; despite the fact that all views expressed were conducted in the context of legitimate class discussions.

    Of course, as anyone would, I had questions as to how, why, and from which of my ‘philosophical views’ did they derive to the conclusion that would deem me, in their opinions, as unfit to become a school psychologist. …Their response?
    Dr. Ted Miller, expressed the subjective assertion that “we just don’t feel that you would be happy in the role of a school psychologist.” …Excuse me? Funny, they did not seem to feel that way when charging me those tens of thousands of dollars for that education, or handing me my degree when I earned my Master’s Degree from that same university; the whole time I was earning that degree there was never any mention whatsoever about any “professional fitness review” in the entire 4 plus years, (plus 2 years at another college), that I attended prior to that point. …And to spite the fact I was earning straight “A” course grades, at a 3.9 GPA, in the advanced graduate degree program; (with a perfect attendance record), and co-authored a scholarly article that was to be published WITH one of the same professors attending that meeting, and serving on the UTC Graduate Student Association.

    When asking these professors, (Dr. Pamela Guess, Dr. Ted Miller and Dr. James Tucker), specifically which viewpoints that they allegedly thought and referred to as “unmindful” and of such a negative “impact” to other students and/or were deemed as “incompatible with those of a future school psychologist,” I was never given any answer; nor did my grades ever drop.
    It certainly does not take a PhD to discern that there is something more concerning going on here other than merely “my philosophical viewpoints” all of a sudden. In fact, Mr. Magoo could see that there is definitely something wrong with this picture.
    …Especially considering that I had already been serving successfully as a mental health counselor for over ten years already at that point.

    To say these allegations were disheartening and completely unexpected is quite the understatement.
    It was more like shock and awe; as well as obviously intellectually dishonest.
    But that is not the point of my story.

    The fall-out from this first “professional fitness evaluation” was to become a critical factor, not only in terms of my survival as a student in the program, but held the unchecked and unrestrained power to potentially completely end my education, not only at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, but any other university as well; and ultimately equate to ‘black balling’ me completely in my chosen profession. …A profession that I had already invested six and a half years of college, 10 years as a mental health counselor, somewhere in the neighborhood of close to $60,000, (not counting interest), worth of student loans to repay, just to reach that point.
    More shockingly, I later discovered that the outcome of these “fitness evaluations” could be used as the basis upon which the program faculty could remove ANY student from the program for ANY reason of their choosing. …This, in and of itself is immensely troubling, and should be of serious concern for ANY student, or parent of ANY student considering investing great sums of money into their child’s further education through the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with this policy in place.

    My 12-months long efforts to have the evaluation dismissed and the record corrected were completely ignored by the program faculty to the point where it became clear that they had made a conscious decision to purge me from the program.
    As the problems mounted, I was faced with no choice but to lodge a formal grievance against the faculty with the university administration. The grievance process dragged on for eight more long months; being cursorily denied at every level, from the Director of the UTC School of Education, through two Deans and the University Chancellor-ultimately being denied by the President of The University of Tennessee system, Dr. Joseph DiPietro.
    Even more disheartening was that all this occurred still without any member of the faculty or university administration ever addressing the substantive issues involved.

    Ultimately, this reluctance to intervene provided the green light for the School Psychology program faculty to intensify their harassment toward me, and in March 2013, I received my 2nd ‘professional fitness review’ in which this time they questioned my “ethical fitness” on the basis of a paper I authored as part of a course assignment in which I offered a critical analysis of the Standards of Practice of the major professional organization, (NASP), that accredits American school psychology programs, and making the argument that those Standards were responsible for the virtual elimination of intellectual debate within NASP-accredited school psychology programs, such as I had experienced first-hand at UTC. Yet, even before attempting to write on this subject, I specifically asked Dr. Pamela Guests for permission to address this issue in that assignment, was in fact granted her permission, and I even received an A on that assignment by Dr. Pamela Guest herself!

    If you think about it, isn’t the elimination of intellectual debate, the free expression of ideas and questioning of establishments’ rigid ideology pretty much exactly what the Soviets and Nazi did in their own educational systems? The only difference in this scenario is I was not threatened to be placed in a concentration camp or with facing a firing squad; I was threatened instead with the very real implied threat of losing the chance for furthering my education, (anywhere), my entire livelihood was definitely placed in jeopardy, and ultimately my entire future was at stake. …Yet they had the nerve to question my ethics? And with this implied but very real threat firmly in place; does this not present a clear violation of my Constitutional rights under the First Amendment of freedom of expression AND infringe upon my Sixth Amendment (property), right, (in the form of my degree), basically holding it hostage unless I conform to their ideology without question? Definitely something to ponder if you are planning on furthering your education or planning to put your kids through school in this ‘institution’. And to top it all off, they are doing this in a state and federally funded university! And the clincher is, don’t think this could not happen to you, and ultimately as a tax payer, you would be paying for them to do so.
    …And this would be right how?

    From that point, the faculty therefore retaliated by using my open rebuttal to my second professional fitness review as a pretext to expel me from the program, making the ludicrous allegation that I constituted both “a physical and psychological threat” to the program. This too, was absolutely ridiculous, as at that time I had been an ordained and licensed minister for 17 years, (unbeknownst to them); and still am to this day. (…But nice try.) More importantly, if the faculty REALLY perceived me to be ANY form of ‘threat’, then WHY would they allow me, for even one moment, to stay in this program at that university? …Let alone for almost two years, and while working with children.
    If that were TRULY the case, it stands to reason that someone other than myself should seriously be the ones up for a “professional fitness review.” …To say the least!

    For the record, at no time did I EVER make threats of any kind to anyone at UTC. This was simply a transparently engineered ruse fabricated by the faculty as an excuse to expel me from the program without which no possible other grounds existed. The faculty’s reason for their false accusations of ‘deeming me as a threat’ came shortly after I shared with some fellow students what the faculty was trying to do to me, and I even did so via e-mail.

    The final blow came in September 2013, as the UTC Chancellor summarily denied my final appeal.

    In addition to the personal, professional and psychological damage I have sustained from the actions of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to my future educational and career prospects, the emotional toll this experience has taken on me, and the large sum of money I have paid in tuition and other expenses related to my studies in the program, the implications of UTC’s actions are staggering as we have in my case, evidence of a tax-payer supported university having infringed on my constitutionally guaranteed free-speech rights as a bona-fide graduate student in a publicly funded institution to express legitimate scholarly views. The academic free speech rights of all graduate students in public institutions of higher learning have thereby been threatened-and by extension, the foundations of our free, open, and democratic society.

    Such institutional arrogance cannot go unanswered. Institutions of higher learning must be held accountable for their behavior when their actions contravene basic free speech rights of citizenship and trample on long held traditions of university scholarship. I am therefore seeking an attorney willing to represent me in a lawsuit against The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga aimed at securing justice and fair and adequate financial compensation for the damages I have sustained in this still unresolved situation. Full and complete documentation of the relevant details of my case are available.
    This certainly also raises the question as to JUST HOW MANY OTHER STUDENTS
    have been charged tens of thousands of dollars for their education only to have the same thing done to them? If this has happened to YOU, we would be very interested in hearing from you in consideration of filing a class action lawsuit; as this sort of unchecked and unrestricted use of power should not be able to prevail in our tax funded education system.

    The statute of limitations for filing my case in a court of law will expire on June 30th, 2014.

    If you are an attorney who would consider representing me, please contact me at (423) 475-3382 or email me at jamesramsey1@gmail.com at your earliest convenience.

    And I promise to keep everyone posted throughout the press and media on any and all further developments concerning this case; as this is an issue that affects the future of us all.

    The End.

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