Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Institutional Memory, Or the Lack Thereof

Sharon Higgins:

So, after years of being slowly starved to death and then getting blamed for not accomplishing more, school districts like mine, the ones most abandoned by the middle class, were then targeted for outsider-led “school reform.” These days, staff turnover in Oakland Unified is higher than ever before, being both a consequence, and the cause, of widespread system disarray.

Once upon a time, even urban public school districts had a precious commodity called institutional memory, something which had built up for decades. When the reformers arrived, this long-term memory was quickly wiped out. And now on an ongoing basis it seems, any short-term memory is, too.

Because so many schools are opening and closing, and everything between, and because so many people are constantly new to their positions, no one remembers what happened before, or what was once tried and what might have worked, or not. Few people remember how certain things are done, or know the people to ask who might be able to help them. Sometimes people have no idea where important light switches are. These days, urban school district life is a never-ending attempt to reinvent some sort of wheel.

This is becoming acute in Providence as well. So many waves of out-of-town superintendents washing in with new and different sets of out-of-town consultants, every three years.

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