Education, A Non-Zero Game
Recent news in Michigan has focused on a proposal by our Governor to require all public schools to be open to enroll any student from any community. Currently, most districts already have these mechanisms in place, which are commonly called “open enrollment” of “schools of choice.” Some districts are open to take any students, others have restrictions on who can come, and a few others are only open to students living within the boundaries of their community. Central to the Governor’s proposal is the argument made by so many politicians, that this measure will help students who attend schools that do not perform well. Competition is also a key characteristic of this argument, using the business philosophy that when two enterprises engage in a price or service war, consumers win.
Competition between districts, created by initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, or other state and local decisions makes education a Zero-Sum game. For those of you who haven’t spent time with Robert Wright’s book “Non Zero” the idea is that in a Zero-Sum game, for one person or group to win, another has to lose. States have to compete for funds from the federal government, districts that are marked as “failing” according to test scores must compete with charters, vouchers to individuals, a feature story in the news recently create a sales environment where one district almost has to “bad mouth” another for funding.
To be clear, I enjoy a Zero-Sum game. I love sports, board games, and all kinds of competition. Nothing is more fun that standing on the sidelines and watching our students compete against a rival school and seeing their excitement when a big play is made.
However, I fundamentally oppose the idea of competition for schools. An increased environment where we have to “sell” our product to harm others will hurt collaboration between professionals, and create an environment where we don’t want our neighbors to succeed. As a society, it is in our best interest for all students to learn and grow at high levels. I want every district, urban, suburban, and rural, to have access to quality materials and to work together to share what is working and what is not. History teaches us that strong communities have strong schools.
There is far too much research available (specifically from Solution Tree, The International Center for Leadership in Education, the Leadership and Learning Center, among others) that makes clear when professional educators share ideas and work together, students benefit. Professional Learning Communities can exist at district and county levels, and can create a strong environment for teachers to bring out the best in students. Rather than focusing on COMPETITION between schools, professionals and politicians should work hard to develop ways that we can have more COLLABORATION.
Reflecting on the power of my Professional Learning Network, both with the colleagues I know from the area I work in and the people I have met on Twitter, I have become a stronger educator. Our work thrives with collaboration, not competition.
I’m going to take a moment today to write to Governor Snyder. I’m going to tell him that I am an educator, and that I know from my own study and work that bringing people together, not making them compete would create the education environment that he is seeking for Michigan children. Maybe a message to Secretary Duncan and President Obama is in order too…..