Restructuring Schools on a Service-Industry Model

by DR. DANIEL HOLDEN, Director of Instructional Technology Northern Buckeye Education Council Archbold, Ohio Consider the present mode of operation in most American high schools. If tests and observations tell us that a student fails to understand a concept, we do not stop everything to help that student. If they don't understand or can't memorize a body of material within an allotted time, we give them a low grade and go on to the next topic. We move students from room to room in a "cells and bells" approach where they receive the prescribed treatment in the prescribed time. They are generally given only one opportunity to show they have learned the material. Quality control is not an issue. It is not surprising, therefore, that many students and their parents caught in this "assembly line" approach are not satisfied customers. Outdated Model Our quest to have students in the right place at the right time at the least cost has been successful in terms of efficiency. Schools are very efficient places. In their attempt to become more efficient, however, schools have become less effective. Schools have been organized to follow an industrial model, a model no longer applicable to our students or our society. Indicative of schools' assembly-line mentality is depriving teachers of a technology considered standard for every professional in America, the telephone. The absence of phones on teachers' desks exemplifies the mindset of the industrial model. If we look at the teacher as an assembly line worker, there is no need for a telephone. However, if we look at the teacher-student-parent relationship as a provider-client relationship, a phone becomes an indispensable tool. Along with this outdated industrial model is the similar problem of an outmoded, inflexible structure. It is difficult to change an organization that primarily uses an instructional design developed by Socrates and a technology comprised of using fossils to scratch on slate. It is imperative, therefore, that American schools ask themselves some key questions: What business are we in? What has to be done to make our business successful? What organizational changes must take place to allow us to do the things we need to do? What technologies will help us provide the service we want to provide? Inherent to this whole process is the fact that technology will change the way we do business. Indeed, technology has been floundering in American schools partly because the old organization perceives it as a threat. Organizations are like living organisms. The old organization knows that technology affects the way it d'es business and will eventually change, maybe even kill, it. Thus organizations resist change as a method of survival. Unless an institution is organized in such a way that change is integral to its survival, it will continue to perpetuate what it has always done for the reasons it has always done them. If we reorganize our schools to respond to our clients' needs, then the organization will have to react appropriately to a changing environment in order to survive. The Problem of Time Schools must move away from the outmoded industrial model to a service-industry model. We must define our business as an organization that provides the service of learning. And in any service industry, customers expect the job to be completed. The biggest obstacle to changing schools is the way educators view time. Since our clients learn at different rates and in different ways, the organization must adapt so that teachers have the flexibility to meet their students' varying needs. If we cannot look at time as a flexible entity, then we will not be able to provide the service necessary for all of our customers to learn. For example, in the carpet cleaning business, the customer expects his whole carpet will be cleaned. If, when the bell rings on the carpet cleaner's watch, the customer is told there is not enough time for the last corner to be cleaned, that carpet cleaner will probably not be in business very long. Yet we replicate this scenario with students every day in American schools. It is also important that schools take a hard look at whether the acceptance of student failure is "good for business." Should we allow students to move to more difficult concepts before mastering the prerequisite knowledge? Before we can approach the point where we begin to look at students as individual clients with varieties of needs, we must abandon the industrial, assembly-line approach. We must cease to look at time as a segmented entity. Instead we must view time as a flexible continuum. Time must become the variable and learning the constant. Pioneering Partners Winner Impossible to do? Consider Swanton High School, a small, averagely funded school in northwest Ohio. Swanton is a 1993 winner of GTE's Pioneering Partners program, which identifies technology programs that are working and gives innovative teachers an opportunity to share their success stories. A group of teachers at Swanton High decided there was a better way to provide learning to students. They developed teams of teachers who, along with students, parents and administrators, are responsible for student learning. Teachers are given a common planning time each day to prepare schedules, discuss problems, evaluate learning problems and communicate with parents. Teams meet with their students each day for three to four hours. Each day's schedule is different. Some students are allowed "Flex Passes," which permit them to decide how much time they want to spend in each class. In addition, students are allowed to progress through the courses at their own rate. However, students do not go on to another topic unless they have shown a 75% mastery level on a variety of assessments. This means that if a student d'es not finish the quarter "on time," he or she continues to work until the 75% mastery is shown on the work that reflects a quarter's grade. When finished, then the student is graded. If students don't satisfactorily complete the year's work and don't take advantage of summer school, then they start where they left off when they come back. Technology Fixes the Problem Studies show that prior to using the teaming approach, teachers were spending 20% of the school year proctoring exams. To better utilize teacher time, a teacher's aid was hired to manage a testing center. When students are ready to take a supervised exam, they go to the testing center. Exams consist of randomly generated questions arranged according to teacher specifications. Test questions themselves are developed by the teachers. Each student gets a different exam, which is printed out on hard copy. Students then enter their answers into the computer, which grades the test and returns a report on what they missed. The teacher receives a diagnostic report on every student showing the objectives with which they had problems. A combination of technologies is used to support the teaming process. First, to aid the process of monitoring student learning, we use a computer program called the Learning Management System, from Campus America. It handles objective-based testing and tracks the progress of students. Teachers create a series of "events" that take students through the courses. The computer gives assignments plus delivers and grades tests according to each teacher's specifications. The computer d'es not deliver instruction per se, it merely records students' progress and automatically provides tests. All of this means there is a lot more time for direct contact between teachers and students. Technically, the Learning Management System is delivered through 150 DEC ASCII-based terminals. Computing resources for the software are provided from a regional computer center, the North West Ohio Computer Association, one of 25 in the statewide Ohio Education Computer Network. Second, satellite-delivered learning from TI-IN provides courses in Japanese I & II, Latin I & II, German I & II, Russian I & II, marine biology and astronomy. The teacher is in San Antonio, Texas, while the students are in Swanton. They communicate by one-way video and two-way audio. Third, science and social studies classes use a variety of videodiscs from Optical Data Corp. Further, lectures have been videotaped so that students may check the tapes out of the library, take them home and watch them with their parents. Students use many different programs as they move through their coursework. HyperCard stacks have also been created (some with QuickTime video) to develop lessons for students having difficulty with certain objectives. Finally, through the Internet, students and teachers have access from any terminal in the district to databases around the world. In conclusion, Swanton is proving that schools can organize themselves so that students are the focus, instead of the institution. With technology, the district has been able to restructure, empower its teachers and better serve its students. Daniel Holden was formerly the assistant superintendent of Swanton Local Schools in Swanton, Ohio. The district is one of 27 served by the Northern Buckeye Education Council, a consortium of districts that share computer and educational technology resources. E-mail: holden@nwoca.' Products or companies mentioned: Learning Management System; Campus America, Knoxville, Tenn. Digital Equipment Corp., Marlboro, Mass. TI-IN; San Antonio, Texas Optical Data Corp., Warren, N.J.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.