David's Reviews > The Quality School: Managing Students Without Coercion

The Quality School by William Glasser
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With the modern push toward standardization in education, fueled further by the No Child Left Behind legislation, it seems fitting –if not terribly desirable– that students be compared with workers and school with a factory. Dr. William Glasser, however, turns that analogy against those who would unwisely use it. In his thought-provoking volume on choice theory, The Quality School, Glasser uses as a point of departure the success obtained by Dr. W. Edwards Deming as he endeavored to transform post-bellum Japan into the economic giant it became in the eighties and nineties. Deming’s vision was singular: cease to coerce workers; instead, give them a reason to want to produce quality products. Glasser suggests that most of the problems plaguing modern schools stem from coercive methods of management, both at the classroom and at the supervisory level. A move away from this defunct model toward a Demingesque “quality school” is, on Glasser’s view, the only answer.

Glasser spends considerable space in the book expounding on choice theory, the keystone of a quality school. This view of human motivation argues that all human beings have five basic needs innately programmed into them: survival, love, power, fun and freedom. While this list assuredly echoes theories concerning affective needs, Glasser differs from other theorists by insisting that only these needs control our behavior. No external force can move us to do something we do not choose to do. We are experiencing as a result, he contends, the failure of traditional “boss-management” leadership styles (in which the boss sets standards without compromise, tells workers how to perform tasks without showing them or accepting feedback, inspects work without input from workers –leading to their producing only minimally acceptable product– and uses the threat of punitive measures to keep workers in line).

As a replacement for boss-management, Glasser proposes “lead-management,” in which the supervisor spends her time and effort determining how best to implements systems so that workers will grasp how very much it is in their best interests to produce quality product. In other words, the manager manages the system, not the workers. The only people who can control the workers are the workers themselves. Glasser enumerates a set of four essential qualities of lead-managing:

*Engaging workers in dialogue about product quality and the time needed to attain it: with this information in hand, a lead-manager constantly tweaks the job so that it fits both the abilities and innate needs of the workers;
*Modeling jobs so workers can see precisely what sort of quality is expected and so they can provide input as to ways of getting to that level;
*Requesting that workers evaluate their own work for quality and relay their findings, trusting that they know a great deal about quality and should be paid attention to;
*Showing that the manager has done all she possibly could as a facilitator to put the best tools, workspace and non-coercive ambience at the workers’ disposition.

Beyond the obvious applications of lead-management to principalships and superintendencies, Glasser goes on to argue that the classroom itself should be modeled on the lead-management-controlled workplace. Recognizing that teaching is the most demanding and least rewarded profession, the author highlights an important difference between teaching and other sorts of authority positions: whereas, for example, workers in a factory have chosen to seek employ at that place and understand the benefit they derive from working well within the system established by the managers (or like patients in a doctor’s office trust that the physician is endeavoring to make their health better), students are not in school, typically, of their own volition, nor are they totally convinced of either the benefit of education or the goodwill of the teachers. These considerations, along with the lack of cultural support for education and the emphasis on low-quality standardized test scores, make teaching insanely complicated when professionals utilize traditional boss-management techniques.

Faced with the understanding that students’ five basic needs must be met in order for them to produce quality work –what Glasser argues school should really be all about, in contrast with the present prevalence of excessive quantities of low-quality multiple choice assignments –schools simply need to restructure themselves. Rather than hurtle students along a conveyor belt of empty memorization and skills tests, students need create quality work… regardless of how long it takes them. Once they begin to see quality work on display throughout the school, once their teachers are modeling such quality work themselves, once they see that quality in their own product, students, Glasser affirms, will begin to include school in that utopian inner fantasy world, their “quality world,” in which all the pleasing things they take joy in doing can be found.

But the author insists a restructuring of schools is needed to reach this level. From how classrooms are run to how the school itself is managed, Glasser proposes (and has been helping more than 200 schools in his Quality School Consortium to implement) a series of (occasionally radical) alterations:
*No more Cs, Ds or Fs: students work on an assignment until it is of the sort of quality they are capable of. This may mean extending some one-year courses (algebra, for example) to two years. To compensate for the severe asymmetry of the grade curve, students who go above and beyond, completing volunteer assignments and the like, will be assigned A+s.
*Students have input on the sorts of assignments they will be completing and the time they need to do so.
*Students have to constantly self-evaluate, checking work for quality and determining paths toward superior product.
*Classrooms are permanently reordered so that the teacher ceases to be the focus, most commonly by creating permanent cooperative groups.
*Punitive rules are eliminated. Conflicts are dealt with as the inability of a student to have one of her needs met, and dialectical approaches (with a time-out room on campus for severe cases) are used to reach resolution. Parents are not contacted for such matters, as the student must work through these difficulties herself, and the threat of “I’m calling your mom/dad” creates the sort of adversarial relationship between student and teacher that the quality school tries to remove.
*Homework is drastically reduced or eliminated (except where a student is finishing classwork at home). Quality work is produced through a union of workers and a lead-manager, and to be assigned tasks to be completed outside of the quality school runs contrary to its purpose.
*Persuade students to accept existing curricula by selecting key products (projects, papers, experiments, etc.) and asking students if they’re willing to do these specific components well. Once they have, the subsets of skills required can be explained to them, and they will be more willing to work on the nuts and bolts required for larger quality assignments.
*Include volunteer “friends” (i.e., mentors) who will deal one on one with those students whose need for belonging is not being met; Glasser theorizes that quite a bit of acting out comes from a type of loneliness only treatable by friendship with an adult.
*Institute a student peer counseling program.

Glasser ends his book by describing his efforts with a small school district in California that is working toward transforming itself into a quality school, showing –as one might have imagined –that putting his plan into practice takes time and significant unity of purpose among staff and students. He segues into some last recommendations for bringing all staff on board, such as bonuses based upon criteria like zero dropouts, near perfect attendance, lower-than-state-average teacher absenteeism, lack of discipline problems, higher-than-state-average students competency in “hard” courses, few or no diagnoses of special needs (a worrisome sidebar to his theory) and lowered student delinquency throughout the community. Glasser would have the school receive the bonus, which would then be divided among staff members and students (75% for the former and 25% for the latter group). The author encourages, finally, all schools to consider conversion to quality standards, as he opines that they will have the greatest impact on the community and eventually on the larger society, an inversion of many educators’ cry that “it’s the parents’ fault!”

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
December 12, 2008 – Shelved
December 12, 2008 – Shelved as: education

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