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"Sergiovanni's book gives life and meaning to the words 'lifeworld' and 'systemsworld'—bringing a new and insightful perspective to the discourse on school reform—and challenges school leaders to gain a more holistic view of students and interaction in the teaching-learning process."—Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director, The National Association of Secondary School Principals
"Once again, Sergiovanni has used his remarkable and unique insight to bring clarity to a major challenge of current leadership—the use of standards. He has managed to contextualize the issue of standards, through looking at the 'lifeworld' of schools, in a way no one else has. This is a fresh and thought-provoking take on a subject school leaders must understand."—Paul D. Houston, executive director, American Association of School Administrators
This inspiring book calls for leaders who act according to the unique culture, values, and needs of their schools. Tom Sergiovanni examines why this "lifeworld" is so vital to school success and shows how local leadership can make the difference in creating healthy, rigorous schools. He explores the crucial link between school character and school improvement. By building institutional character at the local level, principals, superintendents, and policymakers can not only protect the lifeworld of their schools but also craft an educational system based on layered loyalties and shared accountability.
The Lifeworld at the Center.
School Character, School Effectiveness.
Competence and Caring in Action.
Community in a Diverse Society.
Layered Standards and Shared Accountability.
Whole Child, Whole School, Holistic Assessment.
Teachers: Keys to School Improvement.
Deep Change and the Power of Localism.
Leadership, Democracy, and the Lifeworld.
Building diverse and effective school communities that focus on both caring and competence is a good idea. But we have a problem. We can't have this kind of community and a standards movement that imposes on all schools the same expectations and the same outcomes for learning. The present standards movement needs to be realigned. If we continue with standardized standards and assessment then we place community building at risk and compromise the lifeworlds of parents, teachers, students, and local communities. We can avoid this problem by switching to layered standards and shared accountability. Both can accelerate the building of effective school communities. By switching we can have our cake and eat it, too.
Switching our approach to standards is not the same as doing away with standards. Setting standards for what students need to know, for what levels of civility should characterize student behavior, for what schools need to do, and for how parents, teachers, and even governors and legislators define their roles with respect to educational issues is good for students, schools, and the country. Standards are most useful when they are accompanied by assessments that can be used to determine where we are with respect to our goals and to help us get better. Personally, I like standards and assessments, if we have the right kind. Both can help us to define the common good and to come together in a quest to pursue that good. Standards and assessments can play an important role in building the kinds of focused and caring school communities most Americans want.
Because ends, in the form of standardized standards and assessments, ultimately determine means, the further we move in the direction of specifying standards across the curriculum and then testing to see if these standards have been met, the more likely we will be to determine the details of the curriculum to be taught and the kinds of teaching needed for it to be learned. This, then, provides a central agency with virtually complete control of the educational process. Who controls what and how has direct consequences for the kind of profession teaching will become and for the lifeworlds of individual teachers. If a vital lifeworld is needed in every individual school to provide the character, discretion, sense of community, motivation, and commitment that teachers and students need to be responsive and effective, then we have to worry about across-the-board standards and assessments.
Of further concern is that a standardized system is by its nature high stakes. This system determines which students will be winners and which students will be losers and what the consequences of winning and losing will be, not just for a day, semester, or year but in some cases for a lifetime. In some states if students can't demonstrate that they have mastered the official standards, a diploma will not be granted and post-high-school options are dramatically reduced.
The word standard can be intimidating and that causes problems as we try to redirect the standards movement. The dictionary defines a standard as a rule to measure the quality and quantity of something. A learning standard or school standard, to most ordinary citizens, is something similar to the gold standard-a scientific and objective measure of something valuable that ordinary people had better not mess with. Thus parents rarely ask what a standards-based, state-assigned school rating such as "exemplary"or "needs improvement"means. They just assume that whatever is being measured should be measured and whatever the ratings are, they must be scientific ones. If a standard is met, that is good. And if a standard is not met, then that is bad.
The testing situation in Texas provides an example of how systemsworld applications designed to serve one set of purposes and ideals may wind up serving another. A good accountability system, for example, should be designed to help us find out the extent to which students are learning what they, their parents, and teachers think should be learned. Further, test data and other information can help parents, teachers, and students plan better and be more effective in achieving goals, hopes, and dreams. These are great intentions. But, unfortunately, the accountability system falls short.
Though Texas'policymakers may intend differently, the state's accountability system determines which goals are important for each school in the state and which goals are not important. The accountability system also regulates how teachers and principals behave and many aspects of the individual lifeworlds of students. The Texas example is by no means unusual. Many other states and some countries function similarly. In America, test scores are us. And they'd better be "good,"even if no one can explain what an individual score "means"in terms of precisely defined student capabilities, or which score clearly differentiates competence from incompetence.
Colonization of the lifeworld by the systemsworld in the area of standards and accountability has serious negative long-term effects on a school's culture, character, and performance. Both uniqueness and discretion at the school site are needed for a school's culture and character to flourish. Both are compromised by the present "one best way"system of accountability that Texas and many other states now share. Is the answer to do away with standards, accountability, and other systemsworld applications? No, I don't think so. Schools work well when both the systemsworld and the lifeworld are expressed together. With the lifeworld being at the center, this means crafting systems of standards and accountability that serve the lifeworld rather than dominate it.