Achieving Educational Goals: The Basic Model
Slogans work to support consensus even though they often, because of their vagueness, impede implementation. General statements are easy to agree with. Specifics are needed, however, to get the job done. The problem is that there is often more than one job to be done and not every job is understood as a specification of the slogan.
Slogans can be useful beyond patching together a consensus. They can be used to indicate where to look for problems when things are not working. Suppose we ask, "How can we achieve school goals?" If we were responsible for implementation, it would do well for us to ask, "Which school goals?" But we are not looking to find statements for consensus on implementation, so right now analysis is not to the point.
To the question, "How can we achieve school goals?", let's answer, "Through effective implementation." Clearly, this is sloganistic. It cannot fail. Something is not effective if it fails.
Putting the question and answer together we come up with the slogan:
A: School goals are achievable through effective implementation.
"Implementation" is commonly used technical jargon for "tasks feasible for some purpose." Statement A is hardly disputable and nearly vacuous. But it is not just empty verbiage. It can easily be transformed into:
A': If school goals are not being achieved, implementation may not be effective.
We then look to see in what ways effectiveness has been frustrated. Some common reasons for ineffectiveness are
-- The task outcomes do not satisfy the goal conditions.
-- Other tasks conflict with ours.
-- Other goals conflict with the one we pursue.
Notice that these reasons are a mixed bag. To explain failure by saying the task outcomes do not satisfy goal conditions is a longer way of saying that the task is ineffective. But the important point here is that we now have something else to tie down: goal conditions. If someone complains that the schools are failing to turn out literate graduates, we have to determine what "literate" means. Experts disagree.
That other tasks or goals conflict with ours does not necessarily mean our implementation is ineffective. So this is not simply sloganistic. We have a useful indicator here: If your efforts are ineffective, look for task or goal conflicts.
The Basic Model: the general slogan.
What do we need to carry out a task? What makes a task feasible? Adequate resources.
This gives us our second slogan:
B: Adequate resources are necessary for feasible tasks.
This gives us:
B': Infeasible tasks result from inadequate resources.
What could we count as inadequate resources? Any of the following:
-- A certain level of funding
-- A certain level of student motivation or readiness for school.
-- A certain level of teacher or administrator competence
-- A certain physical location
-- Certain support activities, e.g. duplication, equipment maintenance, etc.
We can put A and B together to get a basic model of a successful schooling process, a statement can capture broad consensus (a slogan) that focuses our efforts to account for failures.
The Basic Model: School goals are achievable when adequate resources are provided for effective, feasible tasks of implementation.
Figure 1 illustrates the stages leading up to this model:
The Venn-diagrams in figure 1 illustrate that
-- only tasks that pursue goals are effective tasks;
-- only tasks which are provided (sufficient) resources are feasible tasks;
-- goals are achievable only when they are pursued by feasible tasks.
We can generate a number of useful slogans from this, for example, "Goals are achieved by effective, feasible tasks," or, the much more intriguing, "Without goals, there is no efficiency."
The model given in figure 1 diagram C is simple because we have ignored one thing: consensus. Each item, resources, tasks and goals is practically tied into some sort of consensual procedure. What makes it very difficult is that the consenses may not be connected, so that those who allocate resources may not agree with those who choose the tasks that define implementation. Nor does either consensus have to depend on the consensus that defines goals. When all this is taken into account the model becomes somewhat more complex.
Some Complexities of Consensus
The greater the variation in expectations, tasks and resources, the deeper the consensus needed to support action. We can understand the temptation of school people to overlook or deny legitimate variation in goals, methods and resources such as student abilities and cultural background : these all create consensus problems. But past denials have not made these problems go away.
The public goals of schools derive from consensus on expectations. Public goals, to be implemented, have to be transformed into specific tasks. These educational goals are achievable only if tasks can be derived from them.
Tasks, too, may require a consensual process. The depth of consensus on a goal may affect what tasks are viable operationalizations of it. For example, instruction in art education may enjoy considerable support. But using live nude models may reduce such consensus to non-viability.
Consensus may not be uniform over all items, but may involve trade-offs where one group specifies an expectation to be broadly supported and then supports another group's expectation. Such coalitions provide depth of consensus for items that would otherwise not be seen as connected but that consensus is as stable as the coalitions that support it.
Feasible tasks require resources. But resources may be subject to consensual processes which make specific tasks difficult to sustain. Certain resources require a consensual process for their availability. Examples of these consensual resources are taxes, tuitions, and contributions. Non-consensual resources include things like endowments, reserve funds or earnings. The stability of the consensus affects the continued availability of consensual resources. Politically unacceptable tasks can affect the resources needed for their completion.
We have seen that the more specific the task, the less likely the breadth of consensus for the resources it needs. This encourages appeals to non-consensual authorities, e.g. the courts or commissions to maintain resource levels where consensus is lacking. Similarly, where consensus falters, previously conceded expertise may be challenged through litigation.
A major complication is that the consensual process that selects the expectations may not be the same one that identifies the relevant tasks. Nor the one which supports the allocation of resources. This means that in order to convert political rhetoric into reality several conditions must be met simultaneously. There must be
-- consensus on expectations, i.e. goals, translated into
-- effective tasks selected, possibly, by some other consensus, supported by
-- adequate resources, also selected, possibly, by yet some other consensus. (see figure 2)
Many other circumstances can prevent the achievement of school goals. For example, the life-spans of each of the factors, consensus, expectations, task and resources. Will any of the consenses disappear before the others? Will expectations change? Will the task outlive the resources?. Suppose, for example, implementing meaningful educational reform took a minimum of twelve years. Which stakeholders could maintain power for that length of time? What consenses would hold together long enough to get the job done?
Such questions have been often overlooked in our rush to "improve" or "reform" the schools. But the continued dissatisfaction with the outcomes of close to a century of school reform suggests that such questions are more than an intellectual exercise.
When are educational goals, or any goals, for that matter, achievable? When there is a workably simultaneous consensus on all of the three factors: goals (expectations), resources and tasks.
See, also, Slogans in Education
1. Cf. "Myth #1: There is an Epidemic of Illiteracy in American Society" The Literacy Beat. Vol. 1, No. 3. Education Writers' Association. Sept.1987.
2. Cf. Stephen Goode, "Nation's schools courting trouble." Insight July 11,. 1988. pp. 56—57.