Before targeting teachers, look at the system

November 29, 2010 •

Ken Futernick, director of the School Turnaround Center for the California-based organization WestEd, recently had a keen insight in this article in Kappan Magazine on why teachers behave as they do—bargain collectively, resist accepting certain frameworks of accountability, become frustrated with management. He turns attention from the people, to the structures in which they work.

Regarding the performance of teachers, he asks:

When system standards are in place and performance at any level is lacking, we can then ask: Is the problem due primarily to an individual’s performance…Or, does it have nothing to do with people at all but, instead, is rooted in flaws in policy or system design that would prevent any qualified person from succeeding?

When a problem of performance can truly be tied to an individual, he argues, then the organization should be set up in such a way as to hold them accountable. But that is not always so clear.

That some of the most-criticized behaviors of teachers can be commonly observed in a country as large and diverse as the United States—with teachers in districts large and small; urban and rural; rich and poor—it does seem wise to stop and think about whether the causes of these behaviors reside fundamentally with the system, not the people.

Consider what might happen if teachers ran schools.