Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Teachers, Feel Oppressed By Danielson, APPR? HBS Researcher Links Modern Micro-Management Policies to U.S. Slavery Practices

Forbes magazine --of all places!-- has published a story that reports on a Harvard Business School researcher that has produced a story on modern business management practices and slavery. While the story does not raise issues of applicability to teachers, we can clearly read penchant for micro-management as having clear applicability to the experience of school teachers in the United States today. The micro-management problem is particularly acute in public schools as teachers are held accountable to test scores, when attention to test scores ignores the influence of external social factors or school administration mismanagement.

This study inherently raises parallels with modern tools against teachers, such as Charlotte Danielson's Danielson Framework (which assumes compliant, attentive, intellectually precocious students shall be the norm, evidently, showing little awareness of real world living and working conditions -notice how she has never publicly divulged the specific grade levels at which she taught, her tenure or service or the district in which she worked). Additionally, the HBS researcher's report resonates with Bill Gates/Microsoft-informed stack ranking that enables Jack Welch/GE-style yearly 7 or 10 percent workforce shedding. 

Incidentally, Aaron Pallas of Columbia University's Teachers College reports in "Ratings madness: Are there really no highly effective elementary or middle-school teachers in Syracuse?" that no elementary or middle school teacher in Syracuse public schools rated highly effective, as indicated in that school system's cumulative rating report. Pallas looked carefully and found that the culprit lay in the school-wide local measures. They dragged down the rating for individual teachers. Can we really anticipate that the Annual Professional Performance Review, APPR, implementation will be fair and appropriate? 
Katie Johnston, in Forbes, January 16, 2013

The Messy Link Between Slave Owners And Modern Management

Caitlin C. Rosenthal didn’t intend to write a book about slavery. She set out to tackle something much more mundane: the history of business practices. But when she started researching account books from the mid-1800s, a period of major economic development during the rise of industrialization in the United States, Rosenthal stumbled across an unexpected source of innovation.

Rosenthal, a Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in business history at Harvard Business School, found that southern plantation owners kept complex and meticulous records, measuring the productivity of their slaves and carefully monitoring their profits—often using even more sophisticated methods than manufacturers in the North. Several of the slave owners’ practices, such as incentivizing workers (in this case, to get them to pick more cotton) and depreciating their worth through the years, are widely used in business management today.
As fascinating as her findings were, Rosenthal had some misgivings about their implications. She didn’t want to be perceived as saying something positive about slavery. On the contrary, she sees her research as a critique of capitalism—one that could broaden the understanding of today’s business practices.

The work is part of her current book project, “From Slavery to Scientific Management: Capitalism and Control in America, 1754-1911,” and the forthcoming edited collection Slavery’s Capitalism.

The evolution of modern management is usually associated with good old-fashioned intelligence and ingenuity—”a glorious parade of inventions that goes from textile looms to the computer,” Rosenthal says. But in reality, it’s much messier than that. Capitalism is not just about the free market; it was also built on the backs of slaves who were literally the opposite of free.

“It’s a much bigger, more powerful question to ask, If today we are using management techniques that were also used on slave plantations,” she says, “how much more careful do we need to be? How much more do we need to think about our responsibility to people?”
The next part raises the topic of absentee ownership; this brings to mind the way that current policy is set by people that do not live in the affected districts, by people that do not send their children to public schools (Bill Gates, for one, on both counts)

Absentee ownership

According to Rosenthal, the history of detailed record-keeping on plantations goes back to at least the 1750s in Jamaica and Barbados. When wealthy slave owners in the West Indies started leaving others in charge of their plantations, she found, they asked for regular reports about how their businesses were faring. Some historians see this rise in absentee ownership as a sign of decline, but it is also among the first instances of the separation of ownership and management, Rosenthal says—a landmark in the history of capitalism.

Slave owners were able to collect data on their workforce in ways that other business owners couldn’t because they had complete control over their workers. They didn’t have to worry about turnover or recruiting new workers, and they could experiment with different tactics—moving workers around and demanding higher levels of output, even monitoring what they ate and how long new mothers breastfed their babies. And the slaves had no recourse.

“If you tried to do this with a northern laborer,” Rosenthal says, “they’d just quit.”

Here we find ourselves thinking of the emphasis of metrics over all things student and teacher-related. And on competition and pitting one against the other, we can think of merit pay. On collective punishment, we can think of New York City's mad Measures of Student Learning, which punish gym teachers on the basis of an entire science department's test scores. Has anyone ever considered that many teachers demeaned under the new metrics will "just quit"?

Looking forward

This led owners to experiment with ways of increasing the pace of labor, Rosenthal explains, such as holding contests with small cash prizes for those who picked the most cotton, and then requiring the winners to pick that much cotton from there on out. Slave narratives describe how others used the data to calculate punishment, meting out whippings according to how many pounds each picker fell short.
Similar incentive plans reappeared in early twentieth-century factories, with managers dangling the promise of cash rewards if their workers reached certain production levels.

Planters also used group incentives to encourage honesty, doling out a barrel of corn to each hand with the caveat that if anything was stolen from the farm and no one turned in the thief, double the value of that corn would be deducted from each of their Christmas awards. Collective penalties would later be adopted by salesmen and companies like Singer Sewing Company to encourage workers to police one another.

 . . .

These account books played a role in reducing slaves to “human capital,” Rosenthal says, allowing owners who were removed from day-to-day operations to see their slaves as assets, as interchangeable units of production in a ledger, instead of as people.
 Again, on human capital, we can think of the objectifying conception that education policy rulers have of students.